Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, probably the most classic of all animated musicals and later adapted into a smash-hit, long-running Broadway musical, seems to have attracted two kinds of fans…the animation fans, who universally prefer the original movie, and the musical fans, who in many cases see the Broadway version as an improvement on the original.
Granted, the stage version does come up short in one important field: the visuals. The original film had one of the most distinctive and gorgeous visual looks in all of animation, and next to that, the stage visuals look downright paltry, with only semi-convincing costuming and flashy special effects that seem more at home in a theme park attraction than a Broadway musical.
But visuals aren’t everything, and the expansions made to the story and music in the stage version do provide some pretty significant compensation. For one thing, the stage version realizes something that the movie was essentially in denial about…at the beginning of the story, Belle isn’t a beautiful dreamer who truly deserves something more; she’s a spoiled brat who has no idea how good she has it. She really has as much character growth and general growing-up to go through as the Beast, and the stage version actually acknowledges and charts that progress, particularly in the two solos that bookend her character arc, “Home”, where she first realizes what she’s lost, and “A Change In Me”, where she reflects on how much she’s learned from her experience.
The stage version also gives us much more of the Beast’s perspective, giving us a much clearer idea of what’s going on in his mind, particularly in his heartbreaking solo “If I Can’t Love Her”, and making him a fully equal protagonist with Belle, which the movie never fully managed to do.
Also, there is a much darker element introduced regarding the humanoid household objects that made up the palace staff in the movie. Since the stage show obviously didn’t have the resources to recreate these creatures on film, it instead posited that the servants were slowly turning into inanimate objects, rather than being fully transformed already. This was given a subtly dark twist when dialogue revealed that when the process of transformation was completed, the servant in question would not be alive anymore, and that this had happened to multiple residents of the castle already, adding a new urgency to their attempts to break the spell.
In addition to the new, character-exploring solos for Belle and the Beast mentioned above, some particularly memorable additions to the score include the touching duet “No Matter What” for Belle and her father (who, thankfully, is presented as much less of a cartoon in the stage version), Gaston’s hilariously conceited “Me”, and the showstopping ensemble number “Human Again” (which was cut from the film and eventually restored, but has always worked much better in the stage show).
The stage musical may not match the visual and aesthetic splendor of the film, but it is a much more substantial and complex composition both musically and dramatically, and if your interest in this property springs primarily from those elements, you may find that the stage show, so often underrated by supporters of the film, is ultimately a more satisfying overall exploration of this world-famous story.