How Beauty and the Beast Paved the Way for Disney's Broadway Era

Princesses are no strangers to the Broadway stage. With their glamorous gowns and gorgeous singing voices, live theater is the perfect way to showcase these glowing examples of femininity. With the Broadway Princess Party entering its seventh year currently under the guise of Disney Princess: The Concert, it seems like there has always been at least one adaptation of a Disney Princess movie gracing the Broadway stage. However, this tradition did not begin until 1994 when Disney on Broadway premiered their first show, a stage adaptation of the animated masterpiece, Beauty and the Beast. After the success of The Little Mermaid launching the Disney Renaissance in 1989, Disney movies became known for their Broadway-style soundtracks pioneered by the talent of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who came to their animation studio with backgrounds in musical theater. Though this show is no longer running on Broadway, the script is available for other theater groups including Magnolia Musical Theatre, who performed the show for free in July and August. Thanks to this limited run, I was fortunate to see their fantastic interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast" on my birthday this year.


Though Beauty and the Beast was not the first show I saw on Broadway, it was the first one that I actively convinced my family to take me to, so it has some personal significance to me. The first time I saw it nearly two decades ago, I was a little underwhelmed that the extra hour that was added to make it a Broadway-length show didn't provide any new plot details or character development. However, I still enjoyed the additional songs that Menken and Ashman wrote to expand the runtime. I've had similar feelings about other Broadway shows that Disney adapted from their films, including Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Frozen. It would have been exciting if they took advantage of their Broadway department to bring more original stories to the stage like Aida, but Disney seems to prefer focusing on older properties that they know people will recognize. Seeing the Beauty and the Beast musical again after so many years and knowing exactly what to expect vastly improved my experience. I was awestruck by the show that Magnolia Musical Theatre put on. It was a gorgeous spectacle with impeccable sets, costumes, acting, and orchestrations, and I still can't believe it was all free!


The biggest draw for Disney on Broadway adaptations is the new songs that are typically written by the same writers and composers as the ones for the films. These extra songs can become so popular that they get incorporated into future projects such as the 2002 Platinum Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast, which included a new animated sequence of the song "Human Again" from the Broadway musical. The Little Mermaid Live! television special from 2019 included some of my favorite songs from The Little Mermaid Broadway musical that were sadly replaced by more modern and less catchy versions for the live-action remake. My favorite original songs from the Beauty and the Beast musical used to be "Home," which I had on a Disney Princess compilation CD as a child, and "If I Can't Love Her," the Beast's song that concludes the first act of the show. However, seeing the show again as an adult gave me a deeper appreciation of Belle's song, "A Change in Me," from the second act. The song is about growing up and learning to accept that the things we want as children may no longer mesh with the unexpected directions our lives take as adults. I was surprised to find that I got choked up when I heard this song again now that I'm in my 30s because it had never resonated with me as a teenager.


Another thing that makes live theater special is seeing the audience's reactions to everything in person. Magnolia's show sold beautiful light-up rose wands to children and gave them the opportunity to wave the wands at the climax to help bring the Beast back to life, similar to the tradition of having the audience clap to save Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. This created a beautiful spectacle that gave children an opportunity to feel like part of the show. I also had a lot of fun watching the girls who were sitting near me because they were very energetic and danced around by the trees nearby while playing with their light-up roses. There's something magical about seeing your favorite songs performed live in front of you and knowing that anything can happen. Another fun treat was that the theatre group released thousands of bubbles into the air during the intermission and the finale of "Be Our Guest." After the show, the cast came out to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the audience, another thing that is only possible when seeing a show in person.

  

The enchanting world of Disney Princess adaptations on Broadway continues to captivate audiences, bringing beloved characters and timeless stories to life on the grand stage. From the iconic songs to the stunning sets and costumes, each production showcases the magic and wonder that live theater can create. Whether it's the allure of new songs or the nostalgia of familiar melodies, these adaptations hold a special place in the hearts of both young and old. The experience of witnessing the audience's reactions and being part of a collective moment of joy is a testament to the power of live performances. With every performance, these adaptations remind us of the enduring appeal of Disney Princesses, and the universal impact of their stories. So, if you have the opportunity, immerse yourself in the world of Disney on Broadway and allow the magic to transport you to a place where dreams come true and happily ever afters await.

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