Sunday, March 31, 2013

Music Review: Beauty and the Beast - Original Broadway Soundtrack

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Old and new favorites seamlessly combine
Cons: A missing song from the show, a couple of changed lyrics
The Bottom Line:
Several fun, new songs
Plus ones you already love
A disc that I love




Only a Beast Wouldn't Love this Beauty of a Soundtrack

It's no secret that my favorite Disney animated movie is Beauty and the Beast. So of course, I was intrigued when they turned their version of the classic fairy tale into a full fledged musical. The first time I saw it, I fell in love with it. I have pulled this soundtrack out a couple times a year ever since.

As with most musical soundtracks, it helps to have some idea of the story. Those familiar with the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast will have no problem figuring out what is going on here. When Belle's father is captured by Beast, she agrees to take his place as Beast's prisoner. The two don't get along, but eventually the ice breaks. Unfortunately, Gaston, the handsome but egotistical jerk in Belle's village, is determined to marry Belle no matter what it takes.

The cast is outstanding. The only name I recognized originally was Tom Bosley who plays Belle's father Maurice. Susan Egan is Belle. Since she went on to play Meg in the Hercules animated movie a few years later, I now recognize her voice, too. Terrence Mann is Beast, with the various enchanted objects in Beast's castle being led by Heath Lamberts as Cogsworth, Gary Beach as Lumiere, and Beth Fowler as Mrs. Potts.

Naturally, all the songs from the animated movie are here. I must admit it took a few listens to get used to someone else singing them. Once I did, however, I came to enjoy these versions just as much as the animated cast. The one difference is "Beauty and the Beast." I have never warmed up to Beth Fowler's voice on this song. Since I think she does fine on the others, I'm not sure what the problem is. Guess I just still love Angela Lansbury's voice from the movie too much.

Of course, to turn the movie into a full length Broadway show, they added some songs. And those songs are great. My favorite by far is "Me." This is the song Gaston sings while proposing to Belle, and it's an absolute riot. I mean, he assumes Belle wants to "be some he-man's property." He does admit that women have their uses - "Mainly to extend the family tree." Gee, I can't understand why Belle turned him down. (end sarcasm)

Another favorite is "Home." Belle sings this song after agreeing to take Maurice's place at the castle. It's a heartfelt ballad that allows her to share the pain she is feeling. Yet it ends with her resolve to find a way to change her life again.

Beast gets a couple of solos that really allow us to see his heart. "How Long Must this go on?" is less then a minute, but "If I Can't Love Her" is a full length song. Both show us the pain that Beast is going through, making him human in our eyes. Since these are both sung before he starts showing this to Belle, it really helps develop his character.

"Human Again" has an interesting history. Originally written for the movie, it was cut but then added back for the Broadway production. The song was such a hit there, they added it back to the Special Edition of the movie. This song is sung by the enchanted objects as they begin to see hope that the spell might be broken. I'll admit, this song took a while to grow on me. I really didn't come to appreciate it until after it was added back to the movie. Either way, I like it now.

What really makes the song work for me is the dialogue. It comes right after "Something There." Both songs include quite a bit of dialogue from the play that show the beginnings of Belle and Beast's romance. In fact, there are some very funny lines included that really show how both characters are changing.

Since Howard Ashman wrote all the music for all the songs, everything flows together well. If you didn't know, you'd be hard pressed to tell which songs came from the movie and which were written for the play. Original lyricist Alan Menken had died before they turned the movie into a play, so Tim Rice was called in to write the new songs. His lyrics are great, bringing real emotion to the characters.

Being a Broadway musical, these songs have a lush orchestral background. The full orchestra is absolutely beautiful. If you like Broadway soundtracks, you won't be disappointed.

This CD was actually recorded while some final tweaks were being done to the play. If you go see the play now, you'll notice minor differences. The biggest I notice is the bridge in "Home" where Belle sings something different from the productions I've seen recently and the words written in the booklet that comes with the CD. The ironic thing? I like the original words better.

There is one song from the play missing from this recording. Belle sings "A Change in Me" late in the show, just before the climax. I don't know if it was added to the show too late to make the recording or if they cut it for some other reason. But if you are looking for it, you'll be disappointed.

Several songs include extended musical interludes for dance sequences, most noticeably "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest." Obviously, they lose a little something without the actors there to dance for you. But the music is still quite fun to listen to.

I associate these songs so strongly with Disney's Beauty and the Beast now I actually miss them in the original movie. This soundtrack is an absolute must for fans of that film or Broadway musicals in general.

And if you get a chance, see the Broadway production of this play.

CD Length: 1:12:24
Tracks:
1. Prologue (The Enchantress)
2. Belle
3. No Matter What
4. No Matter What (Reprise)/Wolf Chase
5. Me
6. Belle (Reprise)
7. Home
8. Home (Reprise)
9. Gaston
10. Gaston (Reprise)
11. How Long Must this go on?
12. Be Our Guest
13. If I Can't Love Her
14. Entr'acte/Wolf Chase
15. Something There
16. Human Again
17. Maison des Lunes
18. Beauty and the Beast
19. If I Can't Love Her (Reprise)
20. The Mob Song
21. The Battle
22. End Duet/Transformation
23. Beauty and the Beast (Reprise)

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