HI 80 / LO 51, humidity 26 %
“Pop Culture Happy Hour,” a weekly podcast on all things pop culture, ends each week with a segment called What’s Making Us Happy. What’s making me happy this summer? Belle.
Before Disney realized they could market their heroines as princesses, there was Belle. Belle who loved books more than that gorgeous yellow dress. Belle, who gave up her dreams to save her father. Belle, who cheerfully made friends with silverware. Belle, who argued with the beast. Belle, who never fell for Gaston, the true monster. Belle, who looked at the newly restored prince quizzically before she kissed him.
This summer, my daughter played Belle. I am so not over it.
I still think the story’s introduction—with the stained glass—is one of the best of all time. And it struck me, since I attended all the performances, that the story opens at the lowest possible point: “He fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
That’d be Belle.
And although I knew that the entire castle was cast under a spell because of the prince’s spoiled, selfish behavior toward the old beggar woman, I’d never thought about how unfair it was until I heard the song “Human Again,” which wasn’t in the original theatrical release. Also, in the musical version, all the enchanted household servants are gradually losing every shred of their humanity. If the beast doesn’t learn to love, they will lose the ability to talk or move or do anything other than simply be a candlestick.
If Belle hadn’t learned to love, would she have eventually been cursed, too?
Our show included two songs that are in the musical version. “If I Can’t Love Her,” sung by the beast, is a show-stopper, and “Home,” sung by Belle, which had me sobbing the first night.
Is this home?
Am I here for a day or forever?
Shut away from the world until who knows when?
Oh, but then as my life has been altered once, it can change again
Build higher walls around me, change every lock and key
Nothing lasts, nothing holds all of me
My heart’s far, far away. Home and free.
Since this was a youth production, with actors ages 5-18, there were a lot of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews in the audience. Some of those kiddos sang along. Lots of them wanted their picture taken with Belle, including one little girl who came to all three shows wearing a princess dress. Seeing her made me believe in the power of transformation, that a little girl in a certified Disney princess dress might one day be inspired to read King Arthur (that’s what Belle reads to the beast in the musical version).
After the first performance, my daughter changed out of her Belle dress into a T-shirt and shorts and met her high school friends at Denny’s for an unofficial cast party. I was feeling generous, so I gave her a $20. When she came home, she told me she’d spent it all.
“There was only one waitress and one cook and one host, and there were, like, 20 of us,” she said. “And I just felt bad for them, so I ordered pancakes and just left the rest as a tip. Is that OK?”
“Of course, my dear. Of course.”
P.S. No pics, friends. As our director, Bob Straus says, “That mouse in Orlando likes his cheese.” No cheese for you, Mickey!