Note: My discussion of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ended up being so lengthy that I decided it would fit best as a separate post.
Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, 1991): Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of Disney’s animated films and on my short list of favorite movies in general. The film’s music is absolutely critical to its success. At the time, it was the closest that an animated film had come to duplicating the style of a modern Broadway musical and, thus, it was no big surprise when several years later an adaptation of the movie became Disney’s first Broadway show.
The film featured six songs, and two reprises, by the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who had written songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid a couple years earlier. One previously deleted song, entitled “Human Again”, was added back in to the film for the 2002 re-issue of the film in Imax. Menken also wrote the film’s score, which is largely based around the song melodies, but also introduces a couple additional themes.
The film and soundtrack albums open with a “Prologue” with David Ogden Stiers reading narration that sets up the story. Alan Menken’s musical accompaniment to this is essentially an (unfortunately) uncredited adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from “Carnival of the Animals”. The music fits wonderfully, although its pretty obvious source should have been credited.
The opening number is entitled “Belle” and serves as an introduction for both the film’s heroine and, late in the song, the villain Gaston. This is an impressively-scoped number featuring an entire ensemble, led by Paige O’Hara as Belle. During my first viewing of the film, I remember realizing during this sequence that my jaw was pretty much hanging open from the amazement that they had pulled off such a sweeping, Broadway-style number. This really felt like something very new and unexpected for this medium and the song and sequence continues to impress even after numerous viewings.
“Gaston” remains one of the best villain songs from a Disney film. It also has some of the most clever wordplay of Howard Ashman’s impressive career, even managing to work in the word “expectorating”, which may have been a first for a song lyric. The song really captures Gaston’s distinctive traits while also being exceptionally funny, with Richard White’s (Gaston) and Jessi Corti’s (La Fou) contributing highly to that. Probably because it really doesn’t mean much out of context, the song isn’t as well known as the others from the film, but it may actually be the most complex and accomplished.
The two best known songs from the film are “Be Our Guest” and the title song. The former is presented in a big, Busby Berkley style showstopper. The sequence is probably the most traditional for an animated music number, but it still is tremendous fun and aided greatly by the great vocals by Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth).
The Oscar winning title song is, of course, performed by Angela Lansbury and accompanies the romantic dance sequence late in the film. The song has already become something of a standard and is easily one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney catalog. The end credits’ duet version of the song performed by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion became a huge hit on the pop chart, but pales in comparison to Lansbury’s version.
The other two songs in the film, “Something There” and “The Mob Song” are both used essentially as short cuts to progress the story. The former depicts scenes of Belle and the Beast getting to know each other (and falling in love) and includes some impressive musical parallels to “Belle”, particularly one repeated musical passage to underline the fact that Belle is now living the story she described from her favorite book in the earlier song. “Something There” is also the only song that contains sung vocals by Robbie Benson as the Beast, something that has always seemed like the one gap in the film’s music. “The Mob Song” musically depicts the villagers preparing for their assault on the Beast’s castle. The use of a song for this was a bold and very effective element of the film.
There have been 3 different editions of the soundtrack album to the film. The original release that came out with the film contained the songs as well as about 20 minutes of the score.
The second release was part of Disney’s The Music Behind the Magic boxed set (which also included music from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) and contained the full contents of the original release (except for, oddly, the full version of the prologue) as well as demo versions of all the songs. It also contained a bit more score.
Finally, a special edition soundtrack release came out at the same time as the 2002 re-issue. This added in “Human Again”, a new production number that took place after “Something There” as the enchanted objects all expressed their hopes of being restored to their human state. The song is very good, although the film is probably better without it as it does affect the pacing somewhat. A demo version of that song was also on the “Music Behind the Magic” release and the song had been featured in the Broadway musical, but this was the first release of a completed version with the original cast. The special edition CD also includes demo versions of “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” (both of which were also in the boxed set release) as well as one short, additional score cue.
The Broadway cast album should also be mentioned in any discussion of the music from Beauty and the Beast. The cast album was recorded with the show’s original cast and released by Disney Records shortly after the show’s debut. The cover on the left above was used for the original pressing (the CD that I have), but was replaced with the one on the right for later pressings. I don’t think there is any difference in the content, although I’ve never heard the newer editions and can’t say for certain.
In addition to using all the songs from the film (including “Human Again”), the show featured 9 additional songs (plus some reprises) written by Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice (sadly, Howard Ashman died during the making of the film). Some of the new songs were built around previously instrumental-only melodies from the film’s score. The new songs are very good and do a lot to flesh out the score, taking good advantage of the longer running time available for the stage show.
The new songs for the stage musical included a couple new solos for Belle (“Home”, which is my favorite of the new additions, and “A Change In Me”) as well as new songs that featured Belle’s father (“No Matter What”) and a couple solos for the Beast (“How Long Must This Go On” and “If I Can’t Love Her”). Songs were also created for a few key sequences that were instrumental only in the film, most notably “The Transformation” at the film’s finale. Note that “A Change In Me” was added to the show a few years into its run and is not on the cast album. Susan Egan, who played Belle in the original cast, did record it for her solo album entitled So Far…
There are also some key expansions to a few of the songs from the movie. The stage version of “Be Our Guest” contains an extended dance sequence in the mid-section that significantly adds to the song’s length. The running time on the stage version is just under 7 minutes, as opposed to the under 4 minute film version. Even more significant is the addition of a section in “Something There” where Belle is teaching the Beast how to read, a sequence that later pays off during “Human Again”. These segments add some intimacy to the growing relationship between the two characters which is a big help. A little bit of this is included in the version of “Human Again” added to the special edition of the film, but it works much better in the stage show.
The Broadway cast was uniformly excellent, led by the wonderful Susan Egan as Belle. Egan’s voice somewhat resembles Paige O’Hara’s, but Egan does a good job of allowing her own personality to shine through and making the role her own. Both actresses created very effective and memorable versions of the character and it is great that both are available. Other excellent contributors to the cast album include Terrance Mann as the Beast, Gary Beach as Lumierre, Tom Bosley as Maurice (Belle’s father) and Burke Moses as Gaston. The only performance that falls a bit short is Beth Fowler, who’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast” can’t really live up to Angela Lansbury’s, although that was probably a nearly impossible act to follow.
I saw the show in Los Angeles in late 1996. The original Broadway cast transferred to the L.A. production when it first started, so I did see a number of the original cast members, including Gary Beach and Tom Bosley. I saw the show fairly late in its run and, unfortunately, Susan Egan and Terrance Mann had already left the show. James Barbour had taken over the role of Beast and did an excellent job. He eventually moved to the Broadway production as well.
I don’t recall the name of the actress that had taken over the role of Belle, but I didn’t really care for her performance. She played the character with too much of a “little girl” vocal style that would have been better suited to Snow White than to Belle. Even with the weaker lead, it was still an extremely enjoyable production. I saw the show one more time in Pasadena a couple years ago and still enjoyed it, even though the touring production was scaled down quite a bit compared to the longer run.
Not too long after I saw the show in 1996, Disney produced a TV special called “Beauty and the Beast: A Concert on Ice”. This show featured Susan Egan plus the current (at the time) L.A. cast performing the songs as accompaniment for ice skating routines. I ended up recording the audio from that show and was able to create a revised version of the cast album featuring James Barbour and some of the other performers that I had seen in L.A.
The performances on the TV show also included several revisions that had been made to some of the songs after the original cast album was recorded. Minor changes were made to “Home” and “The Transformation” while the lyrics for “Maison De Lune” and the reprise of “If I Can’t Love Her” were almost entirely re-written. While the original cast album certainly has better sound quality than my music transfer from VHS tape, it is nice to have the revisions and, especially, Barbour’s versions of the Beast’s songs.
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (Rachel Portman, 1997): The direct-to-video sequel to Beauty and the Beast was typically in the mediocre-to-bad category, but the soundtrack album is actually quite good. While Alan Menken wasn’t involved, the original voice cast did return. Rachel Portman was brought on board to score the film and co-write the songs (with lyricist Don Black). Portman was a surprisingly distinguished choice to take on this kind of project and the results, while not close to matching the quality of the Menken & Ashman songs from the original, are still pretty decent.
Portman and Black contributed four new songs to the film. “Stories” and “As Long as There’s Christmas” are holiday-themed ballads performed by Paige O’Hara as Belle. Both are catchy and generally pleasant songs, helped quite a bit by O’Hara’s winning delivery. There is also a nice reprise of the latter song which is performed as a duet with Bernadette Peters, who voiced a new character. That song is also featured in an end credits duet version performed by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack.
The villain of the film (an enchanted piano) is voiced by Tim Curry, who has a fun song entitled “Don’t Fall In Love”. Curry is pretty much always an entertaining performer and the song is performed in his typically over-the-top style and is apt to appeal to any of his fans. Finally, the song “A Cut Above the Rest” is a catchy little song primarily featuring Jerry Orbach as Lumierre and David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth.
Portman’s score is given very little attention on the album, with only about 3 minutes featured over 3 very short cues. The score cues mainly derived from the song melodies and don’t really give more than just a small taste of what is offered.
The real highlight of the album, and the primary reason to buy it, is actually a set of cues that aren’t actually in the movie. The album includes 8 traditional Christmas carols performed, in character, by Page O’Hara. These are simply wonderful and, in fact, it has become one of our most frequently played albums during the holiday season. I especially love O’Hara’s absolutely delightful rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, which she performs with a great deal of personality and charm. Her versions of more reverent songs like “Silent Night”, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “What Child Is This?” are rendered with great emotion.