Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Tim Rice

Beauty and the Beast – Live Action Disney Film is a Gem


The Disney magic has struck again.

The studio’s live action remake, with a superbly talented cast, breath-taking sets, lavish costumes, and special effects that enhance rather than detract, surpasses the original 1991 animated classic. With the previous film, as well as the stage version, in the rear view mirror, and with La La Land whetting the public’s appetite for more musical films, Beauty and the Beast’s timing couldn’t be better.


Dan Stevens as the Beast

Director Bill Condon leads a production team that manages to do everything right. Condon, whose film adaptation of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, also knows his way around a script. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gods and Monsters which he also directed. The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos builds on the original, filling in some of the backstory about Belle and the Prince/Beast. The score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice, retains the songs in the animated version, while eliminating some from the stage version, and adding several that serve to advance the story in key moments.


Emma Watson as Belle and Luke Evans as Gaston

The cast, many of whom had worked with Condon before, trusted his vision and were eager to sign on for this mission. Emma Watson, known to younger audiences as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, is radiant as Belle, projecting the heroine’s intelligence and kindness, but also her bravery when faced with danger. Her face lights up the screen and her singing voice projects a sweet innocence which befits her character.

Dan Stevens, the doomed Downton Abbey heir, might seem an odd choice to play the Prince who, because of his selfishness, is turned into the Beast by an enchantress. Yet he attacks (in some scenes quite literally), the role with relish. While the Beast is a fully digital character (according to the press notes the actor wore stilts and a prosthetics muscle suit with a grey bodysuit during filming), Stevens was determined to display the fine line between man and beast, striving to make his live action character “more dimensional than the Beast from the animated film.” He succeeds, revealing the human trapped inside a horrible-looking animal, particularly when singing the lament “Evermore,” a new addition to the score.

Kevin Kline as Maurice and Emma Watson as Belle

Belle’s father has evolved from the zany inventor in the animated version to an artist who creates beautiful, ornate music boxes. Kevin Kline’s mere presence adds depth to any scene he’s in. His Maurice projects a father’s love, but beneath the surface there’s a sadness about the past. (Through the magic of a mirror, the Beast takes Belle back to her life in Paris and she understands the secrets Maurice holds in his heart.) Kline’s Maurice is not without humor, especially when he encounters some of the talking objects in the Beast’s castle, and he delivers a stirring “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” another new song.


Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans as Gaston

Gaston’s resume has been beefed up, transforming him into a war hero who saved Villenueve, the fictional French village, from invaders. What hasn’t been altered is Gaston’s quick-trigger temper, his oversized ego, and his inability to accept Belle’s refusal to marry him. Welsh actor Luke Evans brings his stage presence and booming baritone to the “role he was born to play,” according to Condon. Paired with Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, Evans takes advantage of Gad’s impeccable comic timing to make the interaction between the two fun to watch. (There’s been much pre-publicity – both positive and negative – about LeFou’s obvious attraction to the manly Gaston.)


The Castle Objects

Those who signed on as the humans doomed to live as various objects in the Beast’s castle until the spell is broken, include a mind-boggling group of A-list actors. For most of the film, they are voicing the characters, but they are seen briefly in the beginning and finally emerge in the flesh at the end. They include: Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the candlestick holder; Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, a harpsichord; Audra McDonald, as Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Plumette, the feather duster; Ian McKellen, as the clock, Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as the teakettle, Mrs. Potts; and Nathan Mack as the teacup, Chip. Hattie Morahan who lurks around the village as the homeless woman, Agatha, is actually the Enchantress who casts the spell on the Prince.

Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, responsible for the visual aspect of the film, led a team of more than 1,000 crew members who worked to create the sets that would mimic those in the animated film. These sets built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios outside London, include: the fictional town of Villeneuve; the castle’s ballroom, with a floor made from 12,000 square feet of faux marble; Belle’s bedroom; and the castle’s library holding thousands of books created specifically for the production. The largest set – 9,600 square feet – is the forest surrounding the castle which included real trees, hedges, a frozen lake, a set of 29-foot high ice gates, and about 20,000 icicles.



Costumes are period perfect and eye-catching. Designer Jacqueline Durran’s team, made up of embroiders, milliners, jewelers, painters, and textile artists, worked for three months before filming began. That lead time was necessary since Durran wanted to create sustainable costumes from fair-trade fabrics. The greatest challenge was designing that iconic yellow dress that Belle wears when dancing with the Beast in the castle’s ballroom. Made from 180 feet of feather-light satin organza, the dress used up 3,000 feet of thread. All that attention to detail pays off. Belle’s gown glows in that dance number, a high point in a film with many high points.

In a cynical world, the “tale as old as time,” never gets old. Disney’s new version continues that legacy.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Beauty and the Beast opens nationwide on March 17, 2017.

Gay’s Paree – Gay Marshall, Conflicted Francophile


Married to a Frenchman, actress/vocalist Gay Marshall has, for many years, lived in both Paris and New York. Formidable renditions of French songs offered in two languages are part of her signature repertoire. These days, Marshall is also retranslating lyrics. I’m pleased to say she does this with respect, not reverence and meticulous attention to unfussy poetry.

A small, sinewy woman with steely presence, the performer has a powerful voice with extremely flexible timbre, including unexpected vocal pivots. Gestures are minimal; the closing of a fist or outstretched arm with open palm arrive with significance. Marshall delivers a rallying cry as if at the barricades. Lyrics that seethe feel wrenched from her guts. She combusts with joy. There are no half measures.

Gay’s Paree is framed as a walk through her second home, past colorful memories. Marshall, who calls herself “a conflicted Francophile,” is no dewy eyed ingénue. Her perspective on The City of Light is balanced. Attitudes and incidents are related with honest frustration as well as affection. Americans, she finds, cling to a rose-colored view as if romance verged on extinction. (Sounds accurate.)


Dave Frishberg’s “Another Song About Paris,” a fitting preface, is too robust for its sentiments but Francis Lemarque’s “A Paris” emerges just right. We’re in Montmartre, meeting her scrappy voice teacher, entering the stage door of The Folies Bergère “with can-can dresses up high, a little pair of booties hung just beneath each one,” singing in French to the French – by which she’s somewhat astonished.

“La Boheme” (Charles Aznavour/Jacques Plante/Gaye Marshall) sails in on luxurious waves of Ian’s Herman’s piano arrangement. Longing is almost visible. Marshall initially learned “Les Grandes Boulevards” phonetically from an old Yves Montand record. Hand on a hip, the song picks up swagger. To the uninitiated, these are the words of an insouciant boulevardier. The artist was distressed to learn its lyrics reveal “stalking a poor creature and pushing her into an alley.” I, for one, will never hear it the same way again. (Norbert Glanzberg/Jacques Plante)

Living in Paris, Marshall felt it was incumbent upon her to experience singing in the streets. She chose a footbridge to The Isle St. Louis. A tender story about a seemingly homeless fan leads into the unfamiliar “Stone” (Michel Berger/Luc Plamandon/Tim Rice) from the French musical Starmania – yes, Virginia, there are evidently French musicals. The song is as dark as they come: The world is stone…It’s cold to the touch/It’s hard on the soul…I would love not to care…laisser mourir (let me die)…Marshall’s muscular performance is backed by roiling, inextricably entwined music.


Behavior the vocalist has learned in France includes: “Don’t smile. Say hardly anything. Never hug the French…Sometimes the crushing condescension gets to you,” she comments. “J’suis Snob” follows. Emulating an affected, French television personality, Marshall becomes a caricature brought to life. She’s really funny, partially because of acting, partially due to a wry translation which ends, My tombstone’s gonna say/Died completely blasé…(Jimmy Walter/Boris Vian/Gay Marshall)

Also retranslated are “La Chanson des Vieux Amants” (Jacques Brel/Gay Marshall),  a love song for the ages and the iconic “Sous le Ciel de Paris” (Hubert Giraud/Jean Drejac/Gay Marshall) which, in this author’s hands becomes jubilant rather than rife with yearning. Herman’s gorgeous piano music veritably twirls. It seems astonishing everyone’s able to stay seated.

We’re now at The Avenue des ChampsÉlysées, described as having morphed into “an expensive shopping mall.” Still, its panoramic view and dense history resonate with Marshall, especially through her father-in-law’s recounting of war stories. A trio of songs then becomes, to my mind, the highlight of the evening: “Les Grognards” (Pierre Delanoe), “La Colombe” (Hubert Giraud/Jacques Brel) and “Sons Of” (Alistair Clayre/Jacques Brel/Eric Blau/Mort Shuman.)

Listen people of Paris, the first begins, We’re ghosts of the people who fought for you…who never saw how beautiful you are…Tonight we’re marching up the ChampsÉlysées without guns or boots…Why the present hour, the second continues with soldiers in the field… At which our childhood ends/At which our luck runs out/At which our train moves away?… The same sweet smiles, the same sad tears/The cries at night, the nightmare fears/Sons of the great or sons unknown/All were children like your own…sings the agonized third.

The medley is an exuberant anthem, an inexorable march, a heart-rending cry, a fervent warning. Marshall performs with soul and conviction, reaching in through our sweaters and defenses, stilling and affecting us all. Music ebbs and swells with almost classical drama, textually complex but cohesive, ending like a psalm. We’ve been on a journey.

“Mon Manage a Moi” (Norbert Glanzberg/Jean Constantin) leaves us with a dancy, music hall number about love, love, love, its gleeful momentum like a raft over rapids.

Though warm and entertaining, patter could be successfully cut by half. If “Les Feuilles Mortes”/“Autumn Leaves” (Joseph Cosma/Jacques Prevert/Gay Marshall) is a lesser translation, other efforts display superb writing. This is an engaging show of headlong emotion, smart observation, and accomplished talent.

Marshall’s choice of multifaceted MD/Pianist, Ian Herman, could not be better.

Photos by Jean-Louis Blondeau

Gay Marshall at Pangea: Gay’s Paree
Ian Herman- Musical Director/Piano
Pangea Supper Club
178 Second Avenue at 11th Street
Additional Shows: November 2 and 9, 2016
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