Disney: Beauty and the Beast 30th Anniversary

Promotional image of H.E.R and Josh Groban. Copyright goes to ABC and Disney.

Hi! It’s Annie!

This is what I was going to talk about for my last post when K-Pop, once again, swept in and stole the show. But there was no way I was going to miss talking about this. The 30th anniversary performance/movie for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ aired and this gained more popularity than any other anniversary performance that Disney has done before this. Specifically because this became widely accepted to be the live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that everyone deserved back in 2017. Now I’m not going to say that I didn’t enjoy the 2017 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to some degree. Do I think it needed to have been made? Absolutely not. Disney really needs to stop with the live action remakes. But I like Emma Watson even though the casting proved to be completely wrong for the project. It would have been fine casting if they had wanted to do a more stylistic version of the story without the songs; but Disney wanted to do a musical. So it helps to cast professional singers and musical actors when that’s what you’re aiming for. In this version, Disney definitely knew that they were aiming for something musical. So the casting was not only great, it ended up being downright impressive! I’m going to go through the main cast of characters this time around and how they were improved. SPOILERS for the 30th anniversary special!!

Belle:

You can’t start this without Belle herself, and H.E.R made for an excellent Belle in a lot of ways. Firstly, I loved how she stood out for the opening number of ‘Belle’. Walking through the concept art for the town all around Disney Studios was an amazing idea and I loved that Paige O’ Hara was the bookshop owner here. I would not be able to think of a better cameo for her than this; it was just perfect. And the clear gorgeous voice of H.E.R really stood out, especially comparing it to its over-autotuned predecessor. H.E.R made herself a force to be reckoned with as Belle and her voice absolutely fit the part. She didn’t oversell or understate any of the songs and I absolutely loved the guitar solo at the very end with the stained glass guitar. I think my only qualm here was that she wasn’t given a whole lot of opportunity to act the part. I was personally kind of disappointed that the Beast’s transformation was not something that this performance attempted to accomplish and we didn’t get to see a whole lot of emotional acting from H.E.R. But with her acting in general it was a little more noticeable in certain places that she was surrounded by people who have done theatre in the past. Despite this, she made for an extremely memorable Belle and I loved the badassery she brought to the role.

The Beast:

When I heard they had cast Josh Groban as the Beast I practically squealed. Ever since the 2017 movie released, I’ve said that Josh Groban just should have been cast as the Beast to begin with. His version of ‘Evermore’ more than proved that he could knock it out of the park and I knew that Josh Groban had done musical theatre. Around then he even dipped his toes in Broadway in ‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’ as Pierre. I have long held the opinion that he should have been the live action Beast. And they finally gave him his chance to prove that he would have absolutely owned the role. Josh Groban wore a giant Beast puppet for most of this. I saw a lot of people criticizing the Beast puppet and saying that it was ugly. I actually loved it. I loved that it looked intimidating and I loved how it operated. It was clearly a piece of puppetry mastery and, as someone who grew up in a hardcore Jim Henson family, I loved their commitment to the puppet. I also loved that Josh Groban was operating it from the inside and I loved peeking inside and seeing him completely act the scene with his facial expressions despite not having to because of the puppet. That was real commitment. And, finally, we got a full fledged production of his version of ‘Evermore’. I was worried that they weren’t going to include it because they were staying more true to the animated movie; but I was so glad that this wasn’t the case. And I loved seeing Josh Groban for even a little while outside of the puppet, especially if they weren’t going to give us the transformation scene. Which I am still very disappointed about. Could you imagine the puppet being removed to reveal a very regal Josh Groban? That’s all I wanted!

Gaston:

I loved Luke Evans in the role of Gaston, don’t get me wrong. But Joshua Henry stole the role for me. He was amazing. When they announced Josh Groban as the Beast, I knew he would be a standout for me. Joshua Henry seized the reigns and then shot right up there with him. I have seen my fair share of performances of ‘Beauty and The Beast’. Including one where Susan Egan came back to reprise her role as Belle with an extremely professional and impressive cast. Joshua Henry is the best Gaston I’ve ever seen. He completely blew me away! His Gaston was extremely charismatic for most of the show without being over the top. You could tell why an entire town full of people would fall in love with this man. And then when he came back for ‘Kill the Beast’ he turned completely intimidating. He embodied the role and made it so much fun to watch the entire time he was doing it. And I loved the additional notes they threw in there for him, because he hit all of Gatson’s notes so powerfully, all I wanted was for him to keep singing. And he also had a little bit of slack to pick up in my opinion, which I’ll get to in a second, and he more than shouldered that as well. Definitely the new best Gaston!

LeFou:

Most of this post is going to be praise, but I’m sad that I can’t give it here. Firstly, Luke Evans and Josh Gad are trained in musical theatre and were the best parts of the 2017 movie. So there really wasn’t anything to make up for here; we already had an amazing duo. Joshua Henry took his role and completely ran with it! Unfortunately, Rizwan Manji did not succeed in doing this with LeFou and I think part of this is because the cards were stacked against him. Disney made the very public and controversial choice pretty early on to put LeFou in a fat suit. There was no reason for this and it was honestly pretty upsetting. It was clear that they wanted him in a fat suit to make him look sillier, not because that was the original design of the character, and I thought we were in a society that was at least more aware of fat shaming. This addition was an awful choice and something that the actor had nothing to do with. On top of this it seemed like they were trying to force an impression of the original rather than just letting Rizwan Manji do what Josh Gad did and make the role his own. The result was an odd, unnatural squeaky voice that did not translate to singing well. LeFou was a massive misstep no matter how you look at it.

Lumiere:

I am a Martin Short fan, but when I heard he was going to be Lumiere I was a little hesitant at first. I don’t recall hearing him use a French accent before this moment, but he’s Canadian so I should have known he probably had one up his sleeve. He was amazing! Definitely the Lumiere that I’ve been waiting for! Martin Short had an amazing singing voice for Lumiere, was hilarious in the role, and had so much energy in it too. I beamed every single time Martin Short came on screen because he was so much fun to watch! I find that a lot of the time with celebrity-casted comedians it can feel like you’re watching the comedian just play themselves. This was not Martin Short in this role at all. He was committed to the character and he stole every scene he was in. Much like Lumiere in the original animated film. They could not have cast anyone better. He made me laugh so much and it truly felt like watching Lumiere come to life.

Cogsworth:

David Alan Grier was the perfect counter to Martin Short’s Lumiere and just as hilarious! Cogsworth can be a difficult role because he’s so serious and comedic at the same time. He has to be the foil to Lumiere’s more outgoing charm while also being just as funny and just as much of an odd character in his own right. David Alan Grier caught this balance for the character perfectly. I laughed so hard during ‘Be Our Guest’ when Lumiere began singing the slower part of the song and Cogsworth appeared with an oar as if they were in a boat. It set the perfect comedic tone for the scene. My only complaint here is that I wanted to see more of him! Though I understand to a degree. While Mrs. Potts and Lumiere both have songs; Cogsworth never really gets to be the center of attention in his own musical number. Still, David Alan Grier was the perfect choice for this role.

Mrs. Potts:

I was skeptical of Shania Twain in this role, especially after the recent loss of Angela Lansbury. It honestly didn’t feel right for anyone to play Mrs. Potts and I can usually be a little skeptical when they cast someone without a lot of musical theatre experience to fill the shoes of someone who has a lot of theatre experience. Shania Twain did much better than I thought and I was extremely touched by the way she payed tribute to Angela. Firstly, the Mrs. Potts costume was probably my favorite in the entire show. It was absolutely gorgeous! But Shania Twain also acted this role really well. She didn’t approach the role as her doing the role, she approached the role as Mrs. Potts. She had the whole motherly thing going for her from the get go and she seemed to understand the additional burden she carried for playing the character right now. I appreciated that immensely and I think she did an absolutely beautiful job.

Maurice and Chip:

I’m putting them in the same category because we barely got either of them. But they were perfect casting and I loved what we got from them. It was nice to see Jon Jon Briones here. Though it was a small role, it really made it feel as though Disney was taking the Broadway approach seriously. And I loved his brief interactions with the wolves. The wolf sequences were really cool to watch and I especially loved watching Maurice with the wolves because of how he acted the scene. Leo Abelo Perry was an adorable Chip and it was so sad that we only got about one scene with him. But he was perfect and seemed so serious about acting Chip as well!

The Dancers:

The dancing was really impressive and I originally really liked the idea of having the dancers represent the rose. But there were definitely moments where it wasn’t my favorite as much anymore. I loved the sequence with the petals falling off of the rose. I personally don’t think we needed them during ‘Evermore’ and sometimes it felt like the dance sequences were going on just a tad bit too long. But at the same time, it’s been really difficult for the theatre and dancing industries lately and I’m just happy Disney decided to give all of those dancers jobs.

There really aren’t that many gripes that I had with this one! I loved this performance of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and I know that it’s one that I’ll revisit. I never really have high hopes for the live streamed type of musical theatre specials. A lot of times I feel myself comparing them to the original sources and becoming disappointed because of things that they cut out or didn’t think about. But this was probably my favorite of those types of shows that I’ve seen. They didn’t try to cut any corners here, they just wanted to deliver a gorgeous show and that’s exactly what they did. I am such a huge ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fan, so much so that I’m currently thinking about getting a somewhat related tattoo, and I was so happy that I ended up loving this. So if you, like me, were skeptical and don’t know if you want to see this; give it a try! I will warn you that it is a combination of the animated movie and a live performance. This isn’t a complete Broadway production or an entirely new live action movie. But it is amazing and worth it all the same!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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