Beauty and the Beast gained critical and commercial success in 1991, and the voices who gave life to these characters are one of the main reasons for its success. Some of the actors were well known and some were not. But their performances of two hallmarks musical numbers will live for decades. For me, the two most memorable songs are “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast”.
There is something about the lyrics and the emotion brought forth that makes “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” memorable. Jerry Orbach makes Lumiere a bright spot in the center of the dinner invitation which is what “Be Our Guest” is all about. Orbach, who many remember for his riveting portrayal of Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order, started his show business career on and off Broadway. He was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, and finally won for his role in Promises, Promises. The pomp and color of “Be Our Guest” required a natural performer who could not only sing, but also make us believe in Lumiere.
Orbach, who won acclaim for first performing the number “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks was a natural fit for Lumiere. When the 1992 Academy Awards nominated Beauty and the Beast for multiple awards including “Be Our Guest” for Best Song, Orbach reprised his musical number for millions of viewers. Watching him perform, you see Lumiere in the flesh, and you believe you are in the Beast’s castle, being welcomed to the imprisonment that Belle is facing in the movie. But it looks like it would be a great place to be a prisoner. I wish my dinner started like that every night.
Angela Lansbury was well known when she took the part of Mrs. Potts. Her gentle soothing voice was part mother and grandmother, which everyone wishes they have. When the big dance scene occurs between Belle and Beast, Lansbury’s rendition of the song “Beauty and the Beast” is the soothing medley that helps convince Belle that the furry beast she is dancing could actually be more than a dangerous animal.
Lansbury was a talented Broadway actress and noted star of Murder, She Wrote. Her grace and character come through in her portrayal of Mrs. Potts. Lansbury is the soft motherly voice that not only cares for her son Chip, but also the Beast, Belle, and everyone else in the castle. Throughout the movie, Lansbury makes Mrs. Potts the voice of love.
Lansbury would introduce Orbach when he performed “Be Our Guest” at the Academy Awards but she would not deliver her version of the title track song later in the program. That honor fell to Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. It’s too bad, Lansbury would have been perfect.
We can thank the animators and artists who visualized Beauty and the Beast, the writers who wrote the script, and Alan Menken and Howard Ashman for their score, but imagine if Angela Lansbury wasn’t Mrs. Potts, and Jerry Orbach wasn’t Lumiere, would we care so much for their characters or their songs? Would “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” have been nominated for the Best Song Oscar? Lansbury’s love song would take home the award that night, beating out the fun and fancy free Orbach.
Enjoy Angela Lansbury as she does these beautiful lyrics justice with her performance.
Sadly, while footage Orbach performing "Be Our Guest" at the Oscars had previously been available online, it has since been removed. This is quite a shame, but thankfully this rendition is embedded in my brain.