Love doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be true. If there’s a single lesson you take away from the old French folktale of La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and the Beast), it’s this. When a banner as massive as Walt Disney creates a Broadway-scale show however, it’s got to be perfect. Yet, as if the idea of initiating their ‘live entertainment’ segment with a performance of one of their most-loved classics isn’t challenging enough, the team at Disney India seems intent on upping the ante already.
In a stunt that’s never been pulled off at any of the 28 countries the show has been performed at, visitors here will be seated in Belle’s world, complete with bakery, bookstore, wig shop and florist. With bad boy Gaston’s favourite haunt, the tavern, to one side, Belle’s cottage to the other, Beast’s castle at stage centre and ramps cutting across the seating area, the audience will literally be right in the middle of all the action.
The rehearsal is on in full swing the day of our visit and there are, by our count, over 45 performers present on a makeshift set, which is a section of an Andheri ground that’s been canopied and fitted with everything from a large stage, props, lights and sound system to a buffet area and private changing rooms for the cast In what seems a fitting, almost romantic arrangement, Belle’s room is adjacent to Beast’s, and Gaston is placed right next door to the Silly Girls. The temporary theatre is abuzz with the inexhaustible energy of the performers — some are engaged in callisthenics, others are enacting their roles on stage.
“Rehearsals have been on since mid-May,” says Vikranth Pawar, show director and creative head, Disney India, of the production. It that has engaged over 100 performers — 65 dancers, 20 actors and the rest with walk-in parts — and at least as many crew members. By rehearsals, he means 12-hour days that begin with fitness regimes that lead into vocal training with playback singer Suzanne D’Mello, who has contributed to the hit soundtracks of Love Aaj Kal and Singh is Kinng. Then, among others, drama training, dance practice and aerial-stunt training. Actors started with this regime shortly after Pawar hand-picked 18 for key roles, “out of a shortlist of over 1,000 who passed through audition that saw 8,000 applicants.”
Rehearsals, conducted at Andheri’s Chitrakut Grounds, are 12-hour days that begin with fitness regimes followed by vocal training. The production has engaged over 100 performers — 65 dancers, 20 actors and the rest with walk-in parts. Pics/Nimesh Dave
The 65 dancers are from choreographer Terence Lewis’ company, but all other actors needed to not only be able to dance, but also sing and act. Belle, for instance, is played by Mumbai theatre familiar, Meher Mistry, whose powerful voice enraptured Jesus Christ Superstar audiences. Edwin Joseph from Delhi, who was associated with the Neemrana Music Foundation, plays the Beast, and posh old Cogsworth, the talking clock, is played by adman and theatre veteran, ‘Bugs’ Bhargava Krishna.
Of their choice of venues, Pawar says, “Neither the Dome in Mumbai nor the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in Delhi, where the show will travel to, are conventional theatre spaces, but they allowed us to re-imagine the show on a larger scale.” The absence of fitted furniture at the venues spawned the idea of introducing a section of swivel seats so privileged members of the audience won’t miss a moment.
Theatre lovers shouldn’t mind paying the premium for these, we imagine, what with the show promising jaw-dropping effects in scenes such as where the prince transforms to a beast and, towards the end, where the slain beast rises, floats mid-air and spins like a rooted tornado as he sheds his monstrous hide.
International teams were consulted to ensure that the pyrotechnics and visual effects met the company’s high standards. But, Pawar also credits Varsha Jain, the visual designer for the project, for working her magic and perfecting the details including important props such as the bell jar that holds the shedding rose.
One heartrending moment in the film is when even though his life depends on it, love-stricken Beast releases his prisoner, Belle, so she may meet her ailing father. Knowing fully well that she may never return, he hands Belle a magic mirror. “Take it with you,” he says,“so you’ll always have a way to look back and remember me.” If the arrangements at the rehearsal grounds offer any indication of the scale and magnificence of the 130-minute show, you won’t need a magic mirror to remember this — the happy experience will stay with you for ever after.
Tickets for the performance at The Dome, NSCI (Worli) will be available on www.bookmyshow.com from September 18 onwards. Six shows will be held in Mumbai, starting from October 23