Go behind-the-scenes of a Tale as Old as Time with this exclusive Alan Menken & Bill Condon Beauty and the Beast Interview. This post is sponsored by Disney as a part of the #BeOurGuestEvent. All fairy-tale like opinions are my own.
Alan Menken & Bill Condon Beauty and the Beast Interview | Revealing, Not Reinventing a Tale as Old as Time #BeOurGuestEvent
The story and the music. It’s true that a movie like Beauty and the Beast would not be the same without them. Then you sit down with the musical genius, Bill Condon, the director and Disney legend, Alan Menken, the composer…and it’s like bucket list, CHECK. I’m literally in the room with the two biggest creative forces for the newest Disney live-action film, Beauty and the Beast, and they had a lot to say about this movie. Hang with me for one of the best Beauty and the Beast interviews yet – finding Emma Watson’s voice, working together for the first time, and why it was important to preserve a Tale as Old as Time by revealing, not reinventing.
Our interview actually began at the piano. Alan Menken played a medley of his famous Beauty and the Beast compositions – with a couple of surprise guests! Tears in my eyes, it was seriously a dream come true to hear this Disney legend play live. From that high, we moved into the intimate interview room with Bill Condon & Alan Menken for a unique behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast.
Finding Belle’s Voice
The words Harry Potter were uttered during a Disney interview. I stifled my huge smile. Bill Condon and Alan Menken shared what it was like to work with Emma Watson – finding her voice and creating a new Belle. I would have been intimidated to sing in front of Alan Menken as well.
Bill Condon: Well I suspected it, just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part.
Then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too. But for her, her voice is so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks. 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. I mean no bones about it, we made sure she had her vocal coach. Bill was actually at the sessions. This is not necessarily it always is but it’s so helpful because 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 in the back of the control room. We had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it. And she did.
I couldn’t imagine being in Bill Condon’s shoes. Recreating a classic always brings it’s challenges – the biggest is weighing the homage to the original and the integration of the new story, new technology, new point of view to make a classic a brand-new hit. It was such an honor to ask this question to two geniuses.
Bill Condon: It was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing. 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? 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.
[Beauty and the Beast] 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. I think for me in terms of making it different, you take the number, Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually, 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 I think you’d agree that’s when movie songs really work.
Alan Menken: And what Bill was doing, you could compare it [to] a high wire act. Every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then what was there and people’s expectations. I always say we have two brains. We have this brain [points to head] and we have this brain [points to stomach]. A lot of time 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, is often like being an architect. We take a story, we create structures that can be musicalized, 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 re-conceived. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.
Ok, So There’s More. What’s Missing Then?
So Bill Condon admits, there’s a lot of new story packed into this film. Well if so much was put in, then obviously something had to be taken out, right?
Bill Condon: We didn’t take anything out, that’s the thing. You look at the animated film and there’s absolutely nothing missing. There was a song that was originally conceived for the animated film, put into reissues of the film, and put into the Broadway musical called Human Again, which is a fantastic song. 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. Human Again is even bigger in a way and that just became something that we had to sacrifice. Part of the feelings and what happens in Human Again got translated into Days in the Sun, which has a very different feel.
Alan Menken: And Human Again also, I gotta say because of Howard. It’s a brilliant song, but it was always problematic, always. It was a nine-minute sequence going through so many sections and so many edits, 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. In the future, maybe we’ll do a whole musical called Human Again and make up for it.
That’s right, 2008. There were talks about a live-action Beauty and the Beast as early as 8 years ago. And that’s how early Alan Menken got a jump-start on creating new songs for this film. He shares his Beauty and the Beast song journey.
Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There were discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script. When I was in London working on Sister Act, Tim was there and I said let’s try working on a couple of songs. 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 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 songs we decided at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. The actual conception of the songs was yes, ‘here they are.’ The actual execution was two years of here are these songs, black and blue and we’re gonna reprise it here and we’re gonna put it…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 have these threads and you begin to weave with them. By the way, I never pull from a trunk, ever.
A director known for creating movies out of musicals. A composer who lives for musicals. How did Alan Menken and Bill Condon find the path to working together?
Bill Condon: I was intimidated at our first meeting. I’m 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, tell me we need that.’ But Alan is a direct opposite of that. 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. We just started a conversation, it went on for a couple of years, right?
Alan Menken: Yeah, and also we’re both professionals. 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 both of us have been through so much. When you’re a pro, you basically arrived at the same place because you know what’s important, you know what needs to get done, and you also by the way know the necessity of process. 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. 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.
It’s amazing to think that Alan Menken is just as relevant today as he was 25 years ago. And the legend will continue to live on. But the impact of the past 25 years+? He just can’t believe how amazing the journey has been. He shares his history, hopes and life lessons with us all.
It’s unreal. Frankly it gives me more of a sense of that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness because we as artists are conduits for emotion and for things, they really come through us. We shape them and so I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that. That’s amazing and wonderful because basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano. I was a nervous kid with an ulcer and I just was a dreamer and then somehow I found that writing songs, composing was where my brain would settle and I just did it and did it and did it and now it has an impact on people like that. I’m just living my life and it’s had that effect and wow.
One of the most important things I learned in my career was it’s not about me. It’s about the characters and the story. And don’t ever fall in love with your own material. Let other people fall in love with it if they want. The more that you’re recognizing that you’re part is bigger than you, you are a part of that, and just stay in the process that you can survive. I mean the most tragic thing is people who go ‘I wrote this wonderful music. I don’t know why it wasn’t a hit. I gotta try. I gotta keep working. I don’t understand why they didn’t like it.’ It’s just tragic. Don’t try it out. Push it aside and go on to something else. Write another musical and another and another. Just move on and don’t get stuck, being the nurse mate to your own material.
Listening to two Disney fans and creators talk about their passion for a new Beauty and the Beast was incredible. This Alan Menken & Bill Condon Interview is a wonderful way to wrap up a series of magical interviews. Have you been following along our #BeOurGuestEvent journey? Catch up here:
- Beauty and the Beast Movie Review | Safe for Kids?
- Exclusive Emma Watson & Dan Stevens Interview
- Exclusive Josh Gad & Luke Evans Interview
- Exclusive Audra McDonald & Gugu Mbatha-Raw Interview
- Beauty and the Beast Dinner Party at Williams Sonoma
- Behind-the-Scenes of Moana from the Disney Animation Building
- Tangled Before Ever After + Tangled the Series Interview
- Milo Murphy’s Law Interview with creators Dan Povenmire & Jeff Marsh
- Baby Daddy Season 6 Interview
- Best Beauty and the Beast Gift Ideas for Your Little Belle
Don’t miss Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, in theaters everywhere.
Have you seen Beauty and the Beast yet? What did you think about the story and the music?
I was invited to attend an all-inclusive press trip, sponsored by Disney. Be sure to follow Raising Whasians via Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube for more Disney insider information, movie updates and entertainment!