Trying, Unsuccessfully, to Hate Beauty and the Beast
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop
Before I tell you how much I enjoyed Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast, let me just say this: I hate Disney. Well, “hate” is a strong word. Let me rethink that. (Short pause.) Yep, it’s true. I really do hate Disney.
I apologize to those of you who think that despising dear Walt is un-American, socialist (do we even know what “socialist” means anymore?), lame-stream, or elitist. But c’mon, friends… falling in love in an instant, having to marry some rich dude to be happy, antiquated gender roles, tons of toys and dresses my kid doesn’t need, female characters who look like waifs, herds of exhausted parents and over-sugared kids at the anything-but Magic Kingdom, and Miley Cyrus for heaven’s sake. These are only some of the reasons I dislike the mega-conglomerate that Disney has become.
So when my friend emailed a bunch of us asking if we wanted to accompany our kids to a production of Beauty and the Beast at the fabled Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, I hesitated. And I agonized, as only a modern mama who worries about everything, including princess pressure, knows how to do. My five-year-old loves princesses. In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with them. Do I shove my anti-royalty propaganda down her throat, or do I bring her to a show I have no doubt she’ll love?
I took to the Internet for some answers and discovered that, to my surprise, Beauty and the Beast originated as a French fairy tale back in the 1700s. Well that’s good news, I thought, since we all know that the French are far superior to us at just about everything. They eat way better than us and are even raising their children better than we could ever do. In fact, I recently learned that French children can even sit at the dinner table for much longer than their slovenly and hyperactive American counterparts. What’s good for the fabulous French is certainly good enough for my kid! So I said to my friend, “We’re in. Two tickets, s’il vous plaît!”
On the day of the show, I gave myself a stern lecture. I would not annoy my friends by snorting disdainfully, making disgusted faces, or rolling my eyes at the extra cheesy parts. But I would make sure to talk to my daughter afterward about how a woman doesn’t need a man to be happy and doesn’t have to be beautiful in order to be loved. I’d then end my fun and engaging speech by telling her that things are never as simple as Disney would have us believe and life isn’t all about happy endings.
Then the show began. Before I could so much as utter the word “misogynist” or “patriarchal domination” I found myself mesmerized and enchanted and pretty much flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed the next 75 minutes.
The acting was fantastic. Gaston managed to be simultaneously churlish, brutish, and endearing, the sidekicks were hilarious but not over the top, Bernie Yvon brilliantly lit up the stage with his demure and delightful depiction of Lumiere, and Belle was wonderfully captivating. Aside from Maurice’s blandness at the beginning and Mrs. Potts’ need to work on the accent (Irish, British, Australian, all of the above?), I was tremendously impressed by the performances. They brought the story to life in a way that felt fresh and invigorating.
Despite my best efforts, I found myself swept up by the story of two people who, against all odds, managed to fall in love. Of a girl whose stubbornness and love of books helped her escape dismal circumstances and who knew there was a better life out there for her. And then there was the Beast, whose rage and despair erupted each time someone got too close or made him feel too much, who upon realizing his love for another person knew that it meant having to let her go.
Boy, that is some good you-know-what, even for me, Queen of the Disney detesters.
So does this mean I’m on the Disney bandwagon? Never. I’m still not into pre-packaged, cotton candy culture, and I’m still fairly certain that if I don’t keep an eye out, one of those nefarious princesses will eventually eat my daughter, as the author Peggy Orenstein has warned. But for one summer Saturday afternoon, I let myself remember that the world is a stage, filled with magical moments and endless possibility, even for a bookish girl from a small town who never lost her ability to dream.
Click here to get your tickets.