The new stage production of “Beauty and the Beast” onboard the Disney Dream certainly lives up to the high standard of creativity and performance set by Disney Cruise Line’s other Broadway-style shows and, in fact, introduces new technology in the storytelling that will leave audiences breathless.
On Friday while the Disney Cruise Line ship was in port in Florida, I was invited to a media showing of the show, which had quietly soft-opened on the previous sailing. Although I have not seen “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway, I did review the live-action remake of the animated classic last year from which this show primarily draws inspiration.
The similarities are clear from the focus on the ornate versions of Lumiere and Cogsworth to the gilding of the set to the iconic ballroom waltz scene. Even two of the new songs from the film, “Days in the Sun” and “How Does a Moment Last Forever” are included into this stage production.
But the element that really sets this production apart from the movie is the use of movement. It becomes apparent from the start that this version of the musical is the one with the highest energy level yet. Actors and dancers are in constant motion, not just in choreographed numbers but in introducing and removing the sets from view. Clever use of arches for doorways and mobile sets of stairs allow the performers to travel between scenes and the wheeled pieces become part of the dance as they glide through the numbers with the dancers.
The wow factor, though, comes from the LED screens that form the walls, and even the exit doors, of the stage. Not only are the images crisp and bright with the ultra high definition, but they keep moving and changing seamlessly. I recently saw LED screen technology used in this way at an Ed Sheeran concert, and it was the same effect of creating continual motion and a richness of depth on a static stage. Amazing.
Lest you think this version of “Beauty and the Beast” is taking a modernistic approach to a beloved tale that won’t appeal to theater purists, let me assure you that it still contains all the elements that audiences expect. The screens really are integrated into the production.
“We’re really taking a giant leap forward with video technology, said projection designer Aaron Rhyme. “And we really believe that’s going to create a really incredible, cohesive blend with what the set looks like, what the video looks like and then the actors really bringing Beauty and the Beast to life in a new way.”
The heart of the production – the storyline – is still intact, and the performers present it to audiences beautifully. The introduction is a little different, though, as explained by Jason Sherwood, scenic designer for the show:
“As we all sat down and discussed the approach and the idea that Belle’s father wasn’t an inventor as we had seen in the animated movie but a music-box maker and a craftsperson and that a music box contains a story, that felt like a very interesting way into the idea that we could take a different vantage point. So the idea that the characters, the people, the story are inside an object became a huge aspect in what we wanted to create visually on stage and the idea that we’re telling a story—it’s a tale as old as time – here it is. We’re opening it up and we’re sharing it with you. It’s a very intimate, very tactile, very old-school storytelling idea we were able to put through our contemporary sensibility as current theater artists.”
But audiences will still find their favorite parts of “Beauty and the Beast.” Belle is still the same earnest, compassionate young woman who dreams of faraway places. The humorous relationship between Gaston and LeFou is still on display. “Reflected glory is just as good as the real thing,” Gaston says to his admirer. And Beast still makes that transformation mentally and physically from a banished man to one who feels loved.
The crowd favorite “Be Our Guest” has been re-imagined as an even more elaborate number with a several-course meal, deliciously prolonging the catchy song. The bold colors of each course – a neon salad! – and the variety of dancing that includes a breakdancer – make this an infinitely satisfying experience.
“In this version of Beauty and the Beast, we are using what we call ‘hi-fi story theatre.’ ‘Hi-fi story theatre being an imaginative, creative way to tell a story and bumping that right up against high-tech theatrical magic that only Disney can deliver,” said Director and Choreographer Connor Gallagher.
“Beauty and the Beast” will be performed exclusively on the Disney Dream, replacing “Villains Tonight” in the ship’s rotation of theater productions.