Way back in 1991, many of us saw the single-handed salvation and revival of the old-fashioned American-style Broadway musical comedy. True, it was in the form of a feature-length Disney cartoon but Beauty and the Beast
had it all: a wonderful, tuneful score (including a huge hit title-song); off-the-wall choreography; a great opposites-attract love story with an ultimately happy ending; comic subplots; colourful period costumes; a romantic location in small-town France, and an irresistible cast, including Angela Lansbury as the voice of a teapot. Alan Menken's songs, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, literally introduced the characters ("Belle" and "Gaston") and carried them gracefully through the old fairy tale with its new animated twists.
Disney understandably decided to transpose this cinematic miracle to the Broadway stage in 1992. Beauty and the Beast at the fabled Palace Theatre has done as much as anything to revive New York's theatre district; it led to a similar animated film-to-stage transfer of The Lion King, which allowed for the magnificent restoration of the 1902 New Amsterdam Theatre, which was the cornerstone of the clean-up of 42nd Street, which in turn transformed Times Square and "Broadway" into the world's number-one tourist destination. However, on stage, Beauty and the Beast was flat, and most of that lack of fizz is, alas, captured on compact disc. The good songs are all here, such as "Be Our Guest", but the performances of them are mostly perfunctory--the exception being the vocal renderings of Susan Egan as Belle, the Beauty. Further, the Disneyfication of the Broadway musical seems to extend to faceless and interchangeable (read: cheap to hire) players, a practice that extends to The Lion King. The only "names" in the original Beauty and the Beast cast were Beth Howland as the teapot and Tom Bosley, a mere shadow of his former Fiorello, as Belle's father. Even worse, unlike The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast was not reinvented for the stage. It's my theory that the kids who made up the live audience (and many of their parents) were filling in the blanks from repeated viewings of the cartoon on video. If you're willing to do the same when only listening, this CD might do, but why, when the movie soundtrack album is available? --Robert Windeler