I first read Beauty and the Beast 15 years ago. It was a tattered, second-hand copy bought from a scrap dealer and its pages were all doodled. Still, I found the fairy tale enchanting: It was about a girl called Belle who lived in a provincial town in France. She loved books, unlike most townsfolk, who considered her ‘odd’. A prince cursed to be a beast, a sorceress, an arrogant suitor, a pack of wolves, and talking watches, teapots and dressing tables—the story was perfect for a summer afternoon.
I recently found myself lost in its magic again while watching Disney’s Beauty and The Beast musical in Mumbai. A first-of-its-kind mega production shown to Indian audiences, the musical is based on the Broadway show by Disney Theatre Productions. The Indian production retains the script and the score of the Broadway original, but the story has been reimagined. The cast is fully Indian and the performances are terrific.
In many ways, the Indian production is grander than the Broadway version. “On an average, a musical on Broadway or West End has not more than 30 to 40 artists on stage. Here in India, we have more than 100 local performers, making it the biggest production of Beauty and the Beast globally,” said Vikranth Pawar, the show’s director and creative head, live entertainment, Disney India. “The seating is unique, as a select set of audience can choose to sit on swivel chairs to enjoy a 360-degree view of the show as the action plays out around them. This creates an immersive experience. To bring alive the story and to bring forth the grandness of the musical, we chose a stadium and not a conventional auditorium [as the venue].”
Disney has spared no expenses in mounting the musical. The grand set design makes the French town look authentic; spectacular choreography and engaging performances make it come alive. Being a musical, there is special focus on the music and singing prowess of its cast, and none of them disappoint. Meher Mistry as Belle and Edwin Joseph as the Beast are standouts.
“We all went through a lot of training before the show,” said Mistry, who joined Mumbai’s theatre circuit four years ago. “We were doing 10- to 12-hour days right from the get-go. Our days were filled with vocal lessons, dance and acting sessions. We also went through a fitness regimen to get our stamina up, so that we had the energy to get through the show as the stage is humongous.”
For Delhi-based Joseph, 21, it was difficult to play the dark, angry character with a tender heart. “The Beast is not among the most verbose of characters. He is misunderstood, unable to comprehend emotion, socially inadequate and, at the end of the day, just helpless,” he said. “All of this must be told, sometimes without words. For me, the process of understanding him began with understanding what he could perhaps be thinking and then exploring the physical manifestations of that flow of thought. All this while keeping him real, engaging and lovable.”
Beauty and The Beast first opened in India last year. In its second run, it is being cheered by audiences and critics alike. The musical will run in Mumbai till the end of May and will travel to Delhi in early June. Encouraged by the response, Disney India says it would like to bring the show to other cities as well.