The Zorlu Center PSM kicked October off with a performance series that justly made the news, hit the papers, turned heads, and made art and theatre enthusiasts rush to the ticket booth! Which production stirred up this much excitement? Beauty and the Beast, a musical that brings together the magical appeal of Disney with the world renowned talent of Broadway. The show was nothing short of spectacular.
Beauty and the Beast is based on the mid-18th century story “Belle e La Bête” by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. However, most of us first became acquainted with the story through the Disney animated feature of the early 1990s. This version of Beauty and the Beast was a global hit. The feature song of the soundtrack, “Tale as Old as Time,” climbed to the top of the charts with Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson on the vocals. I’m sure we can all remember how pretty, fairy-like Belle twirled around in a grand, fancy yellow ballroom dress, dancing with a creature clad in a blue frock, of beastly looks but chivalrous manners. Beauty and the Beast was one of the pioneers of the animation frenzy, leading the way for other blockbuster animations like The Lion King and Aladdin.
The Disney movie was followed in 1994 by a Broadway production that ran for thirteen years and reached an audience of over 35 million, becoming one of the longest running and largest grossing productions ever. Beauty and the Beast was brought back to life two years ago when NETWorks Presentations LLC and the Broadway Entertainment Group put together a US national tour that spanned two years. This year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Broadway debut, they decided to do something grand. They got together the original creative team and re-created the production for an international tour. What we witnessed at the Zorlu Center PSM is the debut act of this tour. In fact, it was here in Istanbul that the musical was put together and finalized. And this production will go on to be performed all over the world — I think that’s kind of awesome!
The performance was all that I expected, and more. True, the story line wasn’t “adult drama.” It was a fairy tale. However, the production made it more than just kids’ stuff. I would describe it as musical production at its finest, a work of refined professionalism and impeccable talent. Disney adopted the fairy tale and gave it universal appeal. Broadway stepped in and provided the very best of theatre, from acting to scenic design. And, to quote the executive producers whom I interviewed the preceding week, the Zorlu Center PSM provided the space, technology and infrastructure to foster the finest of production and performance.
There were more than a few scenes that will forever remain etched in my memory. There was the attack of the wolves in the forest…it was as vicious, ferocious, dark and scary as described as in the fairy tale. But, it was also impressively artistic. The song “Be Our Guest,” during which the castle’s objects declare their joy in having a guest in the house after such a stretch of solitude, was another favorite. The joyful, sprightly and dazzling dance of the forks, knives and other inanimate objects did not seem silly and unreal. Instead, we loved all the merry, excited characters with their passionate dancing, and we were impressed by the creative and top notch costumes! And, of course, who can forget the acrobatics of the welcome rug? This character danced, jumped, rolled and somersaulted across the stage, taking a pause only to lay on the floor for a few seconds so that Belle could walk over it. Finally, in “The Mob Song,” Gaston, the vain hunk of the town, led the town people in a dance of amazing synchronization and rhythm that also somehow turned the click-clacks of beer mugs into rhythm and music through some creative choreography and arm work.
The illusions are also worth a note. The Beast seemed to beam into different corners of the stage in the blink of an eye. Chuck, the only kid in the tale, plays a boy transformed into a tea cup. He is pushed around in a see-through trolley that carries his head around adorned as a tea cup. So far so good…except that his limbs and body are nowhere to be seen! It’s only a head — sorry, a tea cup — being carried on top of the trolley. Thankfully, the boy is transformed into his old self again once the spell is broken. And, we get to see him running joyfully towards his mom, all limbs in tact! And, of course, the finale has the best illusion of all. As Belle declares her love for the Beast, his transformation from Beast to Prince Charming is a truly spectacular sight. He is lifted up into the air by some mystical power, rotates around in mid-air, then goes through all the metamorphic changes until he is back down again and glancing up at Belle as Prince Charming. Yes, a happy ending!
I truly enjoyed every moment of the performance. The scenic design, the visuals, the acting, the costumes, the dancing and just plain everything about the show was magical. We have all listened to fairy tales and imagined them. We have read about them. But, for the first time ever, we witnessed and actually lived in one. Beauty and the Beast at the Zorlu Center PSM made the fairy tale come alive.
Melis Kanık is a contributor to Yabangee