Arts & Culture

"Beauty and the Beast," a tale as old as time

As a young girl watching “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” with her mother, Hilary Maiberger made an important decision.

“I remember leaning over to her and saying, ‘Mom, I want to be Belle someday,’ ” recalled Maiberger, who plays the plucky heroine in a brand-new touring version of the Broadway musical.

Local parents might hear similar comments when “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” stops in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The story of “Beauty and the Beast” has spawned countless adaptations on screens big and small, from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 fantasy film to the 1980s television series starring Linda Hamilton as an assistant district attorney and Ron Perlman as her lion-like lover/protector. (The show was rebooted in 2012 with Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan as the central couple.)

But perhaps the best-known version of the fairy tale is Disney’s 1991 Academy Award-winning animated movie “Beauty and the Beast.” The stage version, which premiered on Broadway in 1994 and ended its run there in 2007, follows the same basic storyline while adding seven songs that offer fresh insight into the characters.

“It’s a richer experience,” said director Rob Roth, who helmed the first Broadway incarnation of the musical.

In both Disney versions of the tale, Belle (Maiberger), a headstrong village girl, has caught the eye of her town’s most eligible bachelor, Gaston (Joe Hagar), but she doesn’t care much for his macho, self-absorbed attitude. She’d rather spend her time reading.

Belle’s life takes a sudden turn when her inventor father, Maurice (William A. Martin), gets lost on the way to a fair and seeks shelter at a seemingly abandoned castle — only to discover it’s actually occupied by several enchanted servants, including cook-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts (Erin Edelle), butler/clock Cogsworth (James May)and valet/candelabra Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati).

It’s also home to the Beast (Darick Pead), a handsome young prince transformed by the same enchantment into a hideous monster.

Only Belle has the power to break the spell — provided she can see past the Beast’s ugly exterior to discover the wounded soul inside.

“Looking beyond the exterior and falling in love with someone for who they really are inside … is the main message of the show,” Maiberger said.

Roth said the idea of transparency extends to set design as well.

While the original Broadway production had a two-ton stationary version of the Beast’s massive castle, the touring production features three smaller set pieces “that can travel and move and spin around the stage,” he explained. “That gave us a lot of flexibility and freedom.”

Ann Hould-Ward’s Tony Award-winning costumes have also been redesigned for a lighter, more layered look.

Although “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is known for its splashy song-and-dance numbers — such as “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston” and the title tune — Roth said the musical’s true appeal lies in its story of love and acceptance.

“The reason ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been around for 20 years is really the story,” Roth said of the musical, which features a book by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. “(It’s) a really beautiful tale that people of all ages relate to it in one way or another.”

According to Maiberger, the musical’s central couple has a lot to do with its charm. She described Belle as a down-to-earth heroine who always follows her heart.

“She’s so passionate. She’s strong, she’s brave. She’s not your typical damsel in distress,” said Maiberger, who has also played Disney heroines Cinderella in “Cinderella” and Jasmine in “Aladdin: The Musical Spectacular.” “I could really go on and on about her.”

The Beast is a kindred spirit, Maiberger added.

“He’s so similar to her, and it’s so comforting to know there’s somebody out there like that,” she said.

Pead, who plays the Beast, agreed that his character shares a special bond with Belle.

“He’s really mean and really sad and really introspective, and (he) gets to get outside himself” while undergoing both physical and emotional transformations, Pead said. “It’s something I love doing every night.”


"Disney’s Beauty and the Beast"

7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$47 to $84