By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
I had the opportunity to screen Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” courtesy of Liquid Soul Media, and I must say that the film is just fantastic. “Beauty and the Beast” is a story about a handsome young prince who rudely turned down the rose of a poor, old woman, and at that moment he is cursed and turned into a beast. He can only return back to the handsome buck that he used to be, if he is able to have someone fall in love with him before a glass-encased rose loses its last petal.
Now, I’m not normally one for the kids’ movies, but this was a welcome Wednesday night respite that turned out to be a “not-so-bad” idea. The movie was filled with magic, as is Disney’s trademark, and the 3D projection literally brought the action right in your face.
What may be the prince’s only chance at love arrives when he meets Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent woman and the only human girl to ever visit the castle since it was enchanted. Belle’s father Maurice, played by Kevin Kline, goes off to sell some of his beautiful handiwork, his horse gets spooked and he ends up in the palace. He meets the beast and is captured, as the beast believes that he was trying to steal from him.
As the timeless story goes, Belle goes looking for her father, and one thing leads to another. Belle has been spurning the advances of Gaston, who has hired LeFou as his valet. Belle readily changes places with her father, and her father goes back to the French village, telling everyone about the beast. No one wants to believe him, and Gaston, who is the most eligible bachelor on earth, attempts to have Belle’s father committed to the asylum. Gaston is always protected by LeFou, who makes sure that Gaston always knows how great and fantastic he is.
After a while in the palace, Belle, played by Emma Watson, abandons her fears and befriends the castle’s enchanted staff. She learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside. Consequently, she finds herself falling in love with the beast, who is played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stephens, and the beast is falling head over hoofs for her. He even lets Belle go back to the village to check on her father. All is well that ends well. There’s a big party at the end, and Gaston finally realizes that he will never have Belle, and the beauty and the beast dance the night away.
This is a Disney remake of the cartoon version that was released more than 20 years ago. Valincia Woolridge was sentimental in her review of the film, as she sang all the numbers and reminisced about the time she took her son to see it at the theater. “I fell in love with the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” when it aired in 1991, and the movie still manages to steal my heart 26 years later,” she said. “When I entered the theater for the advance screening, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that it had to be better the second time around. I’ve seen many remakes that were disappointing, so the characters, the music, the visuals, all of it had to be perfect.”
Woolridge was not disappointed. “As the movie reel spun, my mind was taken over with memories from yesteryear. The characters were spot on. The innocence of Belle; the gentleness of the beast; Gaston who was so full of himself and LeFou the buffoon added life along with the laughter. I got so excited as the dinner scene approached and Lumiere the Candelabra began singing ‘Be Our Guest.’ Oh, it was magical. Mrs. Potts and Chip were my oldest son’s favorite characters when he was a little boy. We would sing this song together. It brought me to tears when Belle and the beast danced to the theme song, and I was overcome with nostalgia.” Woolridge added that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci and Ian McKellen, just to name a few, are some of her favorite actors. “It did my heart good to see them as main characters in the movie. This is a remake of which Disney can be proud.”
“Beauty and the Beast” comes to Chicago theaters on March 17.
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird presented by Lyric Opera March 24 and 26
Lawrence Brownlee stars in this 90-minute opera based on legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Lyric Opera of Chicago and Lyric Unlimited are proud to present the Chicago premiere of a jazz-infused operatic event, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird – A Chamber Concert. Directed by Ron Daniels, this opera explores the extraordinary life of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. In partnership with the Harris Theatre, performances take place two nights only, March 24 and March 26, at the Harris Theatre, 205 E. Randolph St. Tickets start at $35 and are available at www.lyricopera.org/yardbird or at 312.827.5600.
In that empty twilight between life and death, tortured jazzman Charlie Parker composes his final masterpiece, revisiting the inspirations, demons and women who fueled his creative genius. This freeform expedition into the mind, heart and personal purgatory of the bebop great stars Lawrence Brownlee as the legendary saxophonist. Set in the famed NYC jazz club Birdland, Angela Brown sings the role of Parker’s mother, Addie. Krysty Swann, Rachel Sterrenberg and Angela Mortellaro portray his wives Rebecca, Chan and Doris. Ryan Opera Center alumni Will Liverman sings the role of Dizzy Gillespie, Parker’s fellow jazz legend, and Julie Miller as the “Baroness of Jazz,” Baroness Nica. Kelly Kuo conducts a 16-piece orchestra, and it is performed in English with projected English texts. Following the opera, audience members are invited to enjoy a performance of Parker’s music by members of Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic featuring Rajiv Halim (alto sax).
Brown, who was raised in Indianapolis and whose mother remembers her dressing up at the age of 6, talked about her performance in this opera.
“All through my career, I have played matriarchal figures like Serena in “Porgy and Bess” and Cilla in “Margaret Garner,” regal figures like Elisabetta in “Don Carlo,” “Tosca,” “Aida.” Taking a few attributes from each one of these women and stirring in a little Angela Brown with some research on Charlie Parker’s life and mother, I came up with my version of Addie Parker.”
Parker’s story very well lends itself to an opera, Brown added. “It is one of the many stories that can be told about a very important musician. He was the father of bebop, a very important part of jazz. He had a life that operas are made of: humble beginnings, love, tragedy, discord, and he died young. His life story is made for opera.”
However, she added that this presentation is different. “Yardbird is a total twist from the normal opera. It is something that everyone will enjoy and understand, especially with the supertitles. The music is palatable, easy to understand. You can even leave humming some tunes. And, you learn more about Charlie Parker’s fascinating life.”