The Beast Is Back 

You've probably seen Disney's Beauty and the Beast—as a hit film in 1991, which spawned a Broadway production, which spawned several touring versions, which even spawned high school-play versions.

Well, the national touring version of Beauty and the Beast is back—but producers promise that you have not seen this version before.

The original creators of the Broadway production reprised their jobs for the current national tour, in the process re-inventing the show. The award-winning musical opened on Broadway in 1994, earning nine Tony Award nominations, running for 13 years and leading to numerous tours. The new touring version is making its way to the Tucson Convention Center's Tucson Music Hall, starting Nov. 23.

Once the original production team reunited, they made some decisions on how to bring Beauty and the Beast to life once again.

"We all came in and said, 'Here are the 10 things we want to change or redo,'" said choreographer Matt West.

West, who has been involved with the show since it was first unveiled, said there were many things he'd wanted to improve.

"As you grow as an artist, you want to make changes, and you can't always do that—but we did. We essentially started over, but kept all of our favorite elements of the show," said West. "With the choreography, I couldn't change it without other elements changing. It was a domino effect."

The new production began touring in February.

"What really started the changes were the years and years of watching. I went in with a wish list," said West.

As far as West is involved, the biggest changes occurred in the opening number. He said it is bigger and brighter than ever before.

Previously, the show used a two-ton castle set—which was hard to tour with—so they designed something completely different. Now the castle can move, because it splits apart. "Originally, we did not have the space onstage for the set to be 3-D with buildings that move."

The show has modified costumes, innovative set designs, larger numbers, new lighting and even a new song, "A Change in Me," by composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Tim Rice. The new song is a ballad sung by Belle and has been added to Act 2.

"Very rarely do creative people get the opportunity to re-visit their work years later. This team was able to bring 15 years of experience to this new production," said Mario Di Vetta, marketing and sales manager for Broadway in Tucson, which is bringing the show to Tucson.

Another new element incorporated into this tour is the work of puppeteer Basil Twist, who, according to West, helped create several menacing wolf-attack scenes. "Before, actors played wolves, so we never quite hit on the wolf attacks," said West. "But now we have these puppets, and it works really well."

Beauty and the Beast is coming to Tucson just in time for the holidays, so don't forget that it is a heartwarming story great for people young and old. Although the original show has been modified in many ways, it still conveys the classic message and theme of seeing past one thing and into another.

"It is really nice to see the work I created before take on a new life. It is thrilling for me," said West.

More by Kelsey Merkel

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