16 August 2017

Notes on Rep’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Rep's "Beauty and the Beast" runs until December 14 at OnStage, Greenbelt.

An audience member asked on opening night why the iconic (her word) Beauty and the Beast theme was left out of the Repertory Philippines production of the musical. She was, of course, referring to the Alan Menken hit from the Walt Disney label. Rep could sigh in dismay, having categorically stated that their show adopts a different version of the fairy tale; but maybe, just maybe, no one would miss the popular movie tracks had the Michael Valenti score been equally enchanting.

The Laughter Song has got quite a hook (that’s still lodged in my head). As for the rest of the songs, they barely excite the ear, however pleasant-sounding. It doesn’t help that the cast — led by Alana Vicente (Beauty) and Jos Jalbuena (Beast) — seem to be in short supply of energy, unconvinced themselves of what they’re crooning about.

What Rep’s Beauty and the Beast has going for it is: everything else. Bonsai Cielo’s costumes are visual puzzles (Do you put on, slip or morph into a table dress? Is that actual fire on the walking candlesticks?); while John Batalla’s light design is a sustained magic trick. As if the artistic and production staff are giving their own “This is How You Do Theater” lesson to children, while wowing adults on the side.

Do you put on, slip or morph into a table dress?

Peter Del Valle and John Ahearn have written an interesting book as well.

Here, Beauty has two egoistic sisters named Mimi and Fifi, who think she’s boring. And they’re right. Beauty lacks dimension. Thank goodness there’s Mimi and Fifi, and their pompous suitors, Jacques and Pierre to bring the much-needed color and humor to the show. Seeing them prance around, hearing their mannered speech, is a delight. Watch out for their riot of a number somewhere in Act One.

The story takes off when Beauty’s father finds a safe refuge in the middle of a storm, then wakes up in a wondrous garden. How lucky of him as he promised his daughters gifts when he returns home: a tiara and a cape for Mimi and Fifi, and a rose for Beauty. So he plucks the prettiest flower in sight, but no sooner than he can admire it, a mad voice booms at him. Beast. In exchange for his prized possession, he demands that Beauty lives with him, else he will claim the old man’s life. Funny how an innocent wish — a single rose — leads to great dangers.

Awesome foursome: Mimi, Fifi, Jacques, and Pierre bring color and humor to the show.

When Beauty and Beast meet for the first time, they discuss the situation rather calmly. The absence of aggression from both sides is refreshing — and the scene isn't any less intense because of it. With our main characters quickly arriving at a compromise, we wonder what new conflicts will unfold.

Trespassing and possessiveness are some of the show’s nicer points for reflection, even if it is, for the most part, a story of Mimi and Fifi unlearning greed; and of Beast relearning to laugh, and that love reads through facades.

Another audience member asked how they could entice their sons to catch the musical. Men are as afraid of being judged by their appearance as women are. If young boys saw Rep's Beauty and the Beast, they might realize that looks alone doesn’t make or break a person. But they would have to ignore the girls in a rapturous fit the moment Beast turns back into his human, handsome face.

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