Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, with Belle and Beast as the main stars of the story, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook the symbolism that smaller characters contribute. In the hit Broadway musical now playing at The Hobby Center, writer Linda Woolverton made sure to illustrate truths of life that are commonly ignored.
The play, which does not completely veer away from the storyline of the Academy Award-winning animated movie, follows the tale of a young prince whose castle falls under a magical spell, turning him into a beast as punishment until he controls his arrogant demeanor and learns to love. Free-spirited bookworm Belle enters his castle and becomes imprisoned, eventually leading to the two, you know, falling in love. The rest is happily ever after.
Although the Disney film’s major theme is finding beauty underneath an unpleasant exterior, the castle servants—who are also affected by the hex and turned into animate objects—drive home deep, underlying motifs of not losing sight of one’s self and ambitions. With help from Woolverton and director Rob Roth, characters like Mrs. Potts the teapot, Lumière the candlestick, and Cogsworth the clock bring this idea to the forefront with distinct choreography and firm movements. “In the play we’re still more human and we’re becoming objects as it goes on, and it’s more and more difficult to move and be ourselves,” says Samuel Shurtleff who plays the role of Cogworth. “We’re losing touch with our humanity…we’ve lost ourselves and our dreams of we want to be in life, a part of what it means to be a human.”
Beauty and the Beast features classic songs from the film, such as “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston” and “Belle,” but Shurtleff states that the production will also include “Human Again.” Though created by Alan Menken, the musician who wrote all of the movie’s songs we know and love today, the song was not included in the original film. It calls for a solo from Cogsworth, along with a chorus from Mrs. Potts and Lumière, about what he will do when he is turned back into a man. “There’s hope because Belle has come to the castle and Beast is seen to be making a connection, so everyone in the castles hopes the spell with be broken,” adds Shurtleff of the song’s significance. “It’s in touch with the idea of the loss of humanity we feel when we’re rejected and how we want to get back to feel that feeling of being a true human again.”
In addition to “Human Again,” Cogsworth’s serious and strict attitude further displays every day realities of individuals getting caught up with stressors of life and not appreciating what surrounds them. Shurtleff admits he was similar to Cogsworth in his young adult days, and playing the character has reminded him even more that it is best to loosen up. “He’s the driving force behind what happens in the castle, but he shows us that we need to remember to relax,” says Shurtleff. “Many people lose touch with that and look over small, precious moments.”
Whether or not Beauty and the Beast resonates with your own current life dilemmas, people of all ages can surely admire its significance. “It’s for us to stop judging based on the outside and look to the inside,” Shurtleff says. “It’s a message that everybody needs to hear these days, and it’s more important now than everyone before.”
Through May 1. $75-135. The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St., Ste. 300. 713-315-2400. thehobbycenter.org