Beauty And The beast opened with a colossal box office record! What am I talking about? Unless you have been living under a rock, you are well aware that this past Friday, Beauty And The Beast premiered in US theaters everywhere. The film not only premiered, it also broke records. To be exact, Beauty And The Beast is now the sixth highest March opening of all time with a revenue of $174.8 million. When I was invited to attend the #BeOurGuestEvent in Los Angeles, it was beyond clear to me that this movie will be both a box-office hit and a huge fan favorite. After having shared our interviews with the cast, it is now time to share our interview with Director Bill Condon and legendary composer, Alan Menken.
Beauty And The Beast:
Director Bill Condon and Alan Menken (Film Score Composer)
Alan Menken performs with a special surprise from Luke Evans and Josh Gad
Before a single question was asked, we had the amazing opportunity to listen to a live performance behind one of the most talented film composers of our time. Alan Menken is the mind behind such amazing film scores like The Little mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Enchanted, Tangle, and of course, the 1991 Beauty and The Beast and its current live-action remake.
For a director, its baby is the film and for a film composer, its baby is the music scores. So, What drew a major fan of music theater and a music composer to this story?
I was drawn to the story by Disney. Basically Howard Ashman and I were working on the Little Mermaid, it hadn’t been released yet but people were very happy with it and they said how about Beauty and the Beast. We’re interested in doing that next. I have to say Howard and I actually, we had Aladdin but Aladdin had to go back to development because we were a bit to edgy. There was more development work to do on that so Beauty and the Beast then came in and became the next thing we worked on together.
And, as far as what drew me to it beyond that, I gotta go back and credit Howard. When you look at the initial story and how you’re gonna turn it into an animated musical then it was a matter of inventing the enchanted objects and inventing, these huge ego for Gaston and his posse of nitwits who praise him. so simply because for the structure we needed to put in production numbers and comedy numbers and so it was all those brilliant ideas and I gotta say Howard was so instrumental in that.
I have to say, there’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exist and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to re-stage it, do a kind of, new version of it in a live action format but to specially those songs. It just felt to me that, like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
When I heard that Bill was directing it I didn’t know you. I knew the work you had done but Richard said Bill is a major fan of musical theater. He loves it so this was oh, he knows the craft. He knows musicals and so that was huge.
For all the many fans of Emma and Harry Potter, having her be the new Belle was a no-brainer. So, How did they know that Emma was their new Belle?
Well, I suspected it just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met. I was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes. We met for an hour and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part and she came with a whole pile of books, because I was late, I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading. So there she was and then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too. She wanted to go off.
It was Christmas holiday and she said, you know, you go out and get a script together you can send me. We made a handshake deal and Emma’s gonna go off and make a tape and explore her voice and that was the thing that kind of scary moment. To me it’s more intimate than taking your clothes when you first hear somebody sing even in a karaoke session. It’s like oh, my god, that’s the sound that comes out of you. We’ve seen that a few time in movies too but for her the voice, her voice it’s so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle but I was gonna be a really satisfying one.
She was a little terrified. I mean no bones about it and we made sure she had her vocal coach. I had Michael Kosarin, my musical director. Bill was actually at the sessions. This is not necessarily it always is but it’s so helpful because she was I think really intimidated by me. I don’t know why. Possibly because of me being the composer I don’t think she wanted to be that vulnerable in front of me so I really hung back in the control room and in the back of the control room. And we also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and I had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it and she did and Dan was similar. He also was new for both of them.
Related post: Exclusive interview with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.
If you have already seen the movie, you know that Bill Condon did an amazing job revealing more of this iconic story, without sacrificing the 1991 classic animated story we all grew up loving. So, we had to Talk about the challenges of preserving the timeless classic and integrating the new songs and the expanded story.
I think again it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing. So, you bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village. What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then, you know, you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. I hope never to cross that line.
Related post: Exclusive interview with Luke Evans and Josh Gad.
“Something There” Clip
Ah, the score in the live-action remake is beyond amazing, which got me wondering if these songs were brand new or created when the 1991 animated film was in developing. So, Are the new songs brand new?
They’re brand new. No, Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script and when I was in London working on Sister Act, Tim was there and I said let’s try working on a couple of songs. The Days in the Sun, the genesis of that actually began back there as sort of a lullaby moment but once Bill came aboard then that really got reworked to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it.
And the other songs I would say they were the song we decide at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. The actual conception of the songs was yes, here they are. The actual execution was two years of here are these songs, black and blue and we’re gonna reprise it here and we’re gonna put it. So a little bit of How Does a Moment Last Forever into the middle of Days in the Sun. We’re gonna take Days in the Sun theme and we’re gonna put it at the top as the Aria and just begin, you have these threads and you begin to weave with them. By the way, I never pull from a trunk, ever.
And speaking about the actual conception and execution of these songs to move along side the live-action story. How did they manage to incorporate it?
Well the thing is that it had been conceived as a movie first so there are certain principles, you can’t just stop a movie for a ballad for three minutes. The story’s gotta be told during the course of a movie number. You can’t do things you can do on stage. So that had already been figured out by Alan and Howard and the creations of the originals so that was a useful thing to build on. I think for me in terms of making it different you take the number of Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually, in the course of that we’re telling some other new stories. We’re showing the fact that this is a village where only boys go to school or girls do their laundry and where the village lasses who are so into Gaston resent Belle because their mother has always doted more on Belle than her.
Little glimpses, characters who then turn out to play bigger roles in. One of them turns out to be Mr. Potts. One of them turns out to be somebody else’s spouse. So it was fun to be able to pack as much story into the songs because I think you’d agree that’s when movie songs really work.
And what Bill was doing, you could compare it a high wire act. I mean in a sense every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then also what was there and people’s expectations and it’s I always say we have two brains. We have this brain and we have this brain and a lot of time it’s this brain. The gut brain that goes yeah, my gut tells me I need something there. My gut tells me it doesn’t make sense. That’s something wrong with that. My job, as I often liken what I do to being an architect, that we take a story and we create structures that can be musicalized and write these songs and we create that structure.
I’m not gonna live it. The actors are gonna live it. The director is gonna be like the contractor or whatever analogy you wanna give it. It can be lived in so many different ways and I love that. I love when a song or a musical of mine is re-conceived as long as you don’t take our numbers and throw hand grenade to it. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.
Related post: Exclusive Interview with Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
As I mentioned before, I loved what Bill Condon and Allan Menken accomplished in this live-action remake of Beauty And The Beast. But I did wonder if there was anything that was left on the drawing board or had to be cut from the completed version. This is what they had to say about that.
Well we didn’t take anything out, that’s the thing. You look at the animated film and there’s absolutely nothing missing. I would say I’m gonna speak to you for a second that there was a song that was originally conceived for the animated film, put into a reissues of the film and put into the Broadway musical called Human Again, right which is a fantastic song and I think one of your favorites. That was an early conversation that just felt even in a movie this scale it took two and a half years to do Be Our Guest and Human Again is even bigger in away and that just became something that we had to sacrifice. And so part of the feelings and what happens in Human Again got translated really into Days in the Sun which has a very different feel.
And Human Again also, I must say because of Howard. It’s a brilliant song, it really is but it was always problematic, always. It was a nine minute sequence going through so many sections and so many edits, basically watching the entire coming together of Belle and the Beast and watching the objects react and going into a scene and coming back to the song. So it was always a challenge to get it in. we ended up cutting it down to about six minutes by the time it got back into the animated movie and then I think it got cut even a little further for the Broadway show but I think in the future maybe we’ll do a whole music called Human Again and make up for it.
Can you imagine an amazing continuation to this story? Trust me, I hope they do develop that, I would love to see it come to life. I want to take a moment and thank director, Bill Condon and film score composer, Allan Menken for taking the time to chat with us. For the rest of you, if you haven’t seen Beauty And The Beast, go see it. Then be sure to come back and keep the conversation going via the comment section below.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated classic which refashions the classic characters from the tale as old as time for a contemporary audience, staying true to the original music while updating the score with several new songs. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within. The film stars: Emma Watson as Belle; Dan Stevens as the Beast; Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome, but shallow villager who woos Belle; Oscar® winner Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric, but lovable father; Josh Gad as Lefou, Gaston’s long-suffering aide-de-camp; Golden Globe® nominee Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, the candelabra; Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, the harpsichord; Oscar nominee Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, the mantel clock; and two-time Academy Award® winner Emma Thompson as the teapot, Mrs. Potts.
“Beauty and the Beast” is now in theaters everywhere.
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Disclosure: I was provided with an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles, California to attend the #BeOurGuestEvent. No additional compensation was received.