BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is NOW in theaters!
Exclusive Interview with Director Bill Condon
& Alan Menken (Music By)
Directed by Bill Condon based on the 1991 animated film, “Beauty and the Beast,” the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos and produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, p.g.a. and Todd Lieberman, p.g.a. with Jeffrey Silver, Thomas Schumacher and Don Hahn serving as executive producers. Alan Menken, who won two Academy Awards® (Best Original Score and Best Song) for the animated film, provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as three new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice.
What drew you to this story?
Alan Menken: “I was drawn to the story by Disney.” Alan was working with Howard Ashman on Little Mermaid (it hadn’t been released yet, but people were very happy with it). Disney asked if they would be interested in Beauty and the Beast. “I have to say Howard and I actually, we had Aladdin but Aladdin had to go back to development because we were a bit to edgy. There was more development work to do on that so Beauty and the Beast then came in and became the next thing we worked on together. And, you know, as far as what drew me to it beyond that I mean I gotta go back and credit Howard who had some really, you know, when you look at the initial story and how you’re gonna turn it into an animated musical then it was a matter of inventing the enchanted objects and inventing, you know, this huge ego for Gaston and his posse of nitwits who praise him. So simply because for the structure we needed to put in production numbers and comedy numbers and so it was all those brilliant ideas and I gotta say Howard was so instrumental in that.”
Bill Condon: “There’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exist and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it, you know, do a kind of new version of it in a live action format but to specially those songs. It just felt to me that, that like a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Bill has an encyclopedic knowledge of musicals and a clear understanding of how story and music converse with one another, and he saw the film as a chance to bring back the musical genre.
Are the new songs brand new?
Alan Menken: “They’re brand new. No, Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script and when I was in London working on Sister Act, Tim was there and I said let’s try, you know, working on a couple of songs. The Days in the Sun, the genesis of that actually began back there as sort of a lullaby moment, but once Bill came aboard then that really got reworked, you know, to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it. And the other songs I would say they were the song we decide at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. You know, the actual conception of the songs was yes, here they are. The actual execution was two years of here are these songs, you know, black and blue and, you know, we’re gonna reprise it here and we’re gonna put it, you know, so a little bit of How Does a Moment Last Forever into the middle of Days in the Sun. We’re gonna take Days in the Sun theme and we’re gonna put it at the top as the Aria and just, you know you begin, you have these threads and you begin to weave with them. I never, by the way I never pull from a trunk, ever.”
How do you work together throughout the process?
Bill Condon: “Well for me I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m sort of talking about the first possible new song and this is a legendary composer but also it’s a property that as we keep saying is perfect on its own so it’s like okay, gonna tell me we need that but Alan is a direct opposite of that. You know, I think Alan as a man of the theatre, is somebody who craves the dialogue and the collaboration. I think that’s what it’s about and that became clear very, very soon, you know. We just started a conversation, you know, it went on for a couple of years, right?”
Alan Menken: “We’re both professionals. I mean we both have done a lot of work. We know what’s necessary in order to collaborate and there are people who are new to musicals and will try to reinvent the wheel in one direction or another but we both have been through, both of us have been through so much and when you’re a pro you basically arrived at the same place kind of because you know what’s important and you know what needs to get done and you also by the way know the necessity of process and I know that for me to go back to Beauty and the Beast on my own, no way I could do it. I had done it. It’s all about other people coming in and collaborating and for me the director is the boss and so it takes such a burden off of me. Now I’m able to be a catalyst which is what I wanna be more than somebody driving the ship. Bill had the burden of actually driving the ship so I don’t know.”
What was the hardest decision to make when you were filming the movie of taking the music out or put in?
Bill Condon: “Well we didn’t take anything out, that’s the thing. You know, you look at the animated film and there’s absolutely nothing missing. I would say I’m gonna speak to you for a second that there was a song that was originally conceived for the animated film, put into a reissues of the film and put into the Broadway musical called Human Again, right which is a fantastic song and I think one of your favorites. That was an early conversation that just felt even in a movie this scale it took two and a half years to do Be Our Guest and Human Again is even bigger in away and that just became something that we had to sacrifice. And so part of the feelings and what happens in Human Again got translated really into Days in the Sun which has a very different feel.”
Alan Menken: “And Human Again also, I gotta say I mean I must say because of Howard. It’s a brilliant song, it really is but it was always problematic, always. It was a nine minute sequence going through so many sections and so many edits, you know, basically watching the entire coming together of Belle and the Beast and watching the objects react and going into a scene and coming back to the song. So it was always a challenge to get it in. We ended up cutting it down to about six minutes by the time it got back into the animated movie and then I think it got cut even a little further for the Broadway show, but I think in the future maybe we’ll do a whole music called Human Again and make up for it.”
What are the challenges of preserving the timeless classic with integrating new things?
Bill Condon: “I think again it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing, you know. So it was like you start to, you bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village? What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. I hope never to cross that line.”
How did you know that Emma was your Belle?
Bill Condon: “Well I suspected it right, just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle.” When they first met, Bill was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes. He loved how much she loved the original movie and had such a desire to play the part. Emma event came to the interview with a pile of books. “I was late, because I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading, so there she was and then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too.” Emma and Bill made a handshake deal…Emma was going to explore her voice and Bill was going to get her the script to see if they were a match. “Emma’s gonna go off and make a tape and explore her voice, and that was the thing, that kind of scary moment. To me it’s more intimate than taking your clothes when you first hear somebody sing even in a karaoke session. It’s like oh, my god, that’s the sound that comes out of you. You know, we’ve seen that a few time in movies too but for her the voice, her voice is so much — it’s so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle but it was gonna be a really satisfying one.”
Alan Menken: “She was a little terrified.” They made sure she had her vocal coach and Bill was at the sessions. “She was, I think, really intimidated by me. I don’t know why. Possibly because of me being the composer? I don’t think she wanted to be that vulnerable in front of me, so I really hung back in the control room and in the back of the control room. And we also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and just gave, had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it and she did and Dan was similar. .. it was new for both of them.”
Adopting musical to film takes a fine balance. Here you also have the animated film. How did you manage to incorporate all of those and how is it different from working straight off of a musical without an animated film?
Bill Condon: “Well the thing is that it had been conceived as a movie first so there are certain principles like, you can’t just stop a movie for a ballad for three minutes. The story’s gotta be told during the course of a movie number. You can’t do things you can do on stage. So that had already been figured out by Alan and Howard and the creations of the originals so that was a useful thing to build on and I think for me in terms of making it different you take the number of Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually, you know, in the course of that we’re telling some other new stories. We’re showing the fact that this is a village where only boys go to school or girls do their laundry and where the village lasses who are so into Gaston resent Belle because their mother has always doted more on Belle than her. Little glimpses, characters who then turn out to play bigger roles. One of them turns out to be Mr. Potts. One of them turns out to be somebody else’s spouse. So it was fun to be able to pack as much story into the songs because that’s — I think you’d agree that’s when movie songs really work.”
Alan Menken: “And what Bill was doing, you could compare it a high wire act. I mean in a sense every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then also what was there and people’s expectations and it’s I always say we have two brains. We have this brain and we have this brain and a lot of time it’s this brain. The gut brain that goes yeah, my gut tells me I need something there. My gut tells me it doesn’t make sense. That’s something wrong with that. My job, as I often liken what I do to being an architect, that I, we take a story and we create structures that can be musicalized and write these songs and we create that structure. I’m not gonna live it. The actors are gonna live it. The director is gonna be like the contractor or whatever analogy you wanna give it. It can be lived in so many different ways and I love that. I love when a song or a musical of mine is reconceived as long as you don’t take our numbers and throw hand grenade to it. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.”
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Disclosure: I was invited by Disney to attend an all expenses paid trip to cover the #BeOurGuestEvent & other fun adventures in LA on 3/4-3/7. All opinions are my own.