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Archive for October 13th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

When Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast opened in November of 1991, the New York Times’ famed theatre critic Frank Rich called it “the best Broadway musical of the year” even though the object of his praise was not a play, but a movie.   Fully stocked with melodic music and Busby Berkeley-styled show stopping tunes, the film did indeed invite comparison with the Broadway shows of old and musically eclipsed anything that was being done on the Great White Way at that time and several years hence.  The second release in the ‘Disney Renaissance’ that began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and ended in 1999 with Tarzan, the Gary Trousdale-Kirk Wise-directed feature was a major triumph of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery.   The celebrated score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is the most vital ingredient in the film’s success, as it represents the high water mark of their musical collaboration, wedding energy and audacity with lyrical felicity and melodic invention.  Rising to the demands of the story’s emotional underpinnings, composer Menken wrote some of his most ravishing melodies, and lyricist Ashman responded with his own measure of poetry.  Ashman, who died from AIDS complications eight months before the film released, never got to see the resurrection of a genre that had in large measure laid dormant for decades.  Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for The Little Mermaid, also provided the words for four songs that were used in the final cut of Aladdin, releasing in 1992.  But while the interest in musicals were beginning to take hold with those films, Ashman never could have imagined where he would be taking the genre with Beauty and the Beast.  By many critics’ accounts, Beauty and the Beast is the musical by which all modern musicals are now measured. (more…)

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