Azusa Pacific University’s “Beauty and the Beast” pays respect to the original classic in every way it should.

It was a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, and one of the most iconic films in Disney’s
resume. Adapted from a French fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast” proved itself as a historically
significant landmark for Disney not just because of its vibrant songs or enduring romance, but as
their first film to be nominated for Best Picture.

As a result, it built on the newfound impulse that Disney found with “The Little Mermaid” and demonstrated how animation is a cinematic medium that should be taken seriously.

Remaking classics is always a challenge because the question remains how much should a story change to tell it to a new audience while maintaining elements that already worked. This is where Azusa Pacific University’s stage version of the story dances into the ballroom and perfectly exemplifies the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

Built up as the school’s first indoor production in two years since the COVID-19 Pandemic halted everything, I was hoping this adaptation would find that balance of originality while also maintaining a big sense of excitement for what was to come. The end result was precisely what I was hoping for. 

“Beauty and the Beast” was aware that the Disney classic was a lightning in a bottle scenario, and it executed its storytelling as a nostalgic journey that paced the humor and drama very well.

In adaptations like this, it’s significant for the actors to keep the energy alive in their characters
and not rely on impersonation for their counterparts. Fortunately, director Carol Damgen evaded
this trap and showed her talents in guiding every performer.

To start, I was amazed by Miya Butler’s lively performance as Belle. She retained Belle’s qualities that made her into a relatable woman hoping for adventure outside her village, and delivered beautifully in her vocals. Her range on songs like “Something There” and “A Change in Me” perfectly encapsulated Belle’s emotional talent that’s existent in every step of her journey. 

Casey Reaves’ role as the Beast is also a major highlight. His makeup work by Christopher Keene looked well crafted and frightening, but Reaves nailed Beast’s tragic flaws and growth into a caring individual whose heart grows despite his appearance.

The rest of the cast also excelled here. Ranging from the interactive and pompous Gaston
(Zach Voss), the energetic and womanizing Lumiere to the innocent father of Belle, Maurice
(Robert Budd). With the supporting cast being as large as the ensemble, I was really
surprised with how they incorporated the Enchantress (Kaylee Abrahamian) into the plot.

She narrates the prologue that explains the Beast’s inciting curse, and she’s a silent background character that appears secretly amid the ensemble. In certain scenes such as Gaston rallying a
mob to kill the Beast and Belle professing her love to Beast in the third act, she exists as a subtle
plot device and observes the moral that’s the most significant in the story: internal beauty matters more than external beauty, and appearances can be deceitful with how a person expresses their true colors.

Furthermore, this new interpretation of Beauty and the Beast meant that not every effect or
production quality had to be identical to the original. Aspects that you can achieve in animation
won’t necessarily be accomplished in live action. But despite limitations, I thoroughly enjoyed
the aesthetic and visuals of the play.

These animations allowed for more of a personal touch instead of a pursuit to one-up the original. Whether it would be the household servants jumping up steps to convey their physical features or the West Wing being a moving set, it helped the play’s set design to showcase the advantages of being live action. 

Simply put, it’s a new take that pays off and doesn’t distract from the story being told.

Through its spirited performances, toe-tapping songs and its fresh take on the classic love story,
“Beauty and the Beast” provided some adventure in the great wide. This was the comeback APU
Theater Arts needed, and it succeeded in giving the audience familiar entertainment while also
teaching the importance of internal beauty.

I was fortunate to be APU’s guest with its new take that paid tribute to the magic in the most concise and emotional ways possible.