Earlier this year, Disney announced they were creating a production of Beauty and the Beast for one of their cruise ships, the Disney Dream. After more than two years in development, the show made its debut on November 8th in the Walt Disney Theater. There was very little fanfare for this debut. Prior to the show cruise director Brent made the simple announcement that this was the premiere of the show. This was particularly interesting as the original voice of Belle, Paige O’Hara, was on board the ship showing her artwork in the Vista Gallery. But she was not on stage for the premiere and no mention of her was made. (Note: There is a media opening for the show on Friday morning where there will surely be much more fanfare).
Reportedly, Beauty and the Beast is based on the live action version of the film which I admittedly haven’t seen. However, I’m a huge fan of the animated film and the show does not stray far from it. All of the songs are there and in the same order you’d expect Belle and its reprise, Gaston, Be Our Guest and Something There, Beauty and the Beast and The Mob Song. Also present, from the live-action film, is Evermore and Days in the Sun, which is placed between Be Our Guest and Something There along with its reprise.
Be Our Guest is the obvious show stopper, and while I enjoyed it, I found it to be a little too over the top, particularly the day glow salad course. However, that segment was the highlight of the song for my wife, so to each his own. But whatever disappointment I had for Be Our Guest was more than made up for by Gaston. Gaston’s simple, funny character really shone through and Lefou (who stole the show for me whenever he was on stage) ends the song with a hilarious play on “and his name, G A S…” This song was easily the highlight of the show for me.
Belle’s portrayal was perfect. She both looked and sounded the part as she went from the bookish girl seeking adventure, to the heroine who found it saving her father to the beauty who steals the beast’s heart. She couldn’t have been any better. Her father Maurice, given a larger part than he has in the animated film, as he has in the remake film.
While Beauty and the Beast does not lend itself to spectacular effects in the same way Aladdin or Frozen might, there are still some very memorable sequences which I will not spoil. But I will say, don’t let your mind wander during the Enchantress’ appearance at the beginning. The effect is amazing.
I was also a huge fan of the how the sets were done. As best as I could tell, there were no physical background changes. Instead, incredibly detailed projection mapping was used to create each scene. Makes sense on a cruise ship where space is so limited, but even beyond that it really worked for me, particularly on outdoor scenes where photorealistic (or maybe just photos) of mountains or landscapes were used. The backgrounds could also be animated to simulate running or doors opening and closing. I really liked this. Another highlight was the choreography between two simple, short staircases that are pushed around in numerous scenes as characters climb and descend them. Simple, but for me, very memorable.
Rather than use human-sized objects as the Broadway show did, the objects are puppets with their intended-to-be-seen operators behind them a-la Finding Nemo the Musical or Avenue Q. Again, this worked. Mrs. Potts’ son Chip was a tiny animated cup on the same tray as Potts and that was very effective as well. And for his human counterpart at end of the show, a child from the audience is chosen to stand on stage. A really nice touch.
Though this was the debut, the theater was not full and I did not get the sense the place was full of Disney fans eagerly awaiting it. Instead, it just seemed to be a typical Disney cruise audience. But the reaction to almost every song was very enthusiastic and there was a long standing ovation as the performers took their bows. Even though the show is about 60 minutes long, it is extremely well paced. There were only a couple of very short periods where you could hear the tell-tale sounds of restless kids in the audience.
Put simply, Beauty and the Beast on the Disney Dream was amazing. I’ve seen Golden Mickeys, Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic, Believe, Twice Charmed, Villains Tonight and Toy Story the Musical on various Disney ships. Up until now, Toy Story was my favorite but Beauty and the Beast has now surpassed it. They’ve taken a nearly perfect film and done it justice on the Disney Dream. And I can’t wait to see it again.