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The Music
Song as Old as Rhyme

"Beauty and the Beast" features six great songs by the award-winning team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The songwriters became involved at the most fundamental stage and had a major influence on the final structure of the story. Their work on this film reflects a sophistication and unity with the material that has seldom been achieved in the medium before.

When the decision was made to turn "Beauty and the Beast" into a musical in late 1989, the filmmakers turned to Howard Ashman to help them accomplish this. The producer, directors and screenwriter met with him frequently in the months that followed and sought his expert advice on how to restructure the story.

"Howard taught me that the moments for songs are when the characters just have to burst into song; there's just nothing else they can do, because their emotions are so extreme," says Woolverton. "He had a real genius for knowing when and where to place songs and he knew that a song can leap you much further into the plot than any dialogue possibly could."

"Howard and Alan are brilliant at taking a piece of story that works well in the script and turning it into a musical moment that works so much better," elaborates Hahn. "Usually it's a turning point, a heightened dramatic moment or a comedic scene. They are able to musicalize the story without letting it screech to a halt."

According to Menken, "One of the first things Howard and I did when we began working on this project was to sit down and toss around some musical ideas. He usually had a basic idea of the style of song he wanted to write and sometimes even a title or some completed lyrics. Then he would ask what the music might sound like if we were going to write a certain kind of song and I would sit at the piano and let fly. Howard had the ability to find what he liked and then write to it. We had a kind of shorthand between us, and we each shared a background of loving musicals and growing up with many of the same influences."

The film's opening musical number is called simply "Belle," and it introduces the viewer to the heroine and her burning desire for adventure and romance. For the melody Menken combined classical, baroque and French influences to capture the mood and energy of the morning in this small provincial village. According to David Friedman, who arranged the vocals and conducted the songs, "'Belle' is like the ‘Pastoral Symphony' with the entire town waking up. It has classicality about it and is very symphonic in structure. We used a 62-piece orchestra with a lot of strings. Most of the orchestra members were from the New York Philharmonic, and never has such an orchestra played on Broadway. It was a thrilling and amazing experience."

Lyrically, "Belle" fits in with Ashman's theory that practically every musical ever written has a moment where "the leading lady sits down on something - in 'Brigadoon' it's a tree stump; in 'Little Shop of Horrors' it's a trash can - and sings about what she wants most in life. We borrowed this classic rule of Broadway musical construction for 'Part of Your World' in 'The Little Mermaid.'"

The song "Gaston" is a brawling barroom waltz, which provides insights into the personality of the song's title character. Sung by Le Fou and other Gaston admirers, including of course Gaston himself, the tune serves as an important moment in the film as it reveals the scheming, darker side of this previously harmless character.

"Be Our Guest," a bright, cheery song in the French music hall tradition delivered in grand style by Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth and a chorus of dancing plates, silverware and other objects, is one of the musical highlights of the film. Producer Don Hahn describes it as "Busby Berkeley, Esther Williams and Maurice Chevalier crashing the kitchen."

"This song was written basically to fill a situation in a story, first and foremost," says Menken. "Our heads were filled with all the wonderful images that could be provided by the animators, and as usual they exceeded our expectations."

Director Gary Trousdale points out that "Be Our Guest" was originally intended to be sung to Maurice. "The song had already been recorded and the sequence partially animated when we decided that it would be more meaningful if it was directed towards Belle," says Trousdale. "After all, she is one of the two main characters and the story revolves around her coming to the castle. We had to bring Jerry Orbach and all the other vocal talents back into the studio to change all references to gender that appeared in the original recording."

"Beauty and the Beast" Tale as old as time True as it can be Barely even friends Then somebody bends Unexpectedly Just a little change Small, to say the least Both a little scared Neither one prepared Beauty and the Beast Ever just the same Ever a surprise Ever as before Ever just as sure As the sun will rise Tale as old as time Tune as old as song Bittersweet and strange Finding you can change Learning you were wrong Certain as the sun Rising in the east Tale as old as time Song as old as rhyme Beauty and the Beast. - Lyrics by Howard Ashman


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