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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Better than Disney...
When my dear friend Linda first contacted me to write a musical for the theater she was then a part owner of, I was flabbergasted. Me? Write a script? With lyrics? All that dialogue and stage directions? To be produced? On stage? In front of a live audience? Yeah, I admit, I was good with words. I still am (poetry, short stories, anovel about to be published).) But to write a script? No. Not me. Back then, that was totally unfathomable.

Fifteen years and five musicals later – three of them since produced by various theaters – we are offering them in both paperback and ebook versions for everybody’s reading and singing pleasure. As a matter of fact, two have been published already: Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood and Noah's Rainbow . (Please check them out!) And now we've just released the script and music vocal sheets for Beauty and the Beast , the third in our McInerney and Uzelac "series". I must admit, with its charming, lyrical music and engaging story, it is probably our most favorite collaboration. At least it is mine.

Beauty and the Beast was first produced by the Village Playhouse just outside of Atlanta, GA on, of all dates, my birthday in 2000. Back then the popular Disney musical been running on Broadway since 1994 and everyone since then had been jumping onto the bandwagon. Actually, ever since Gabrille-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve conceived of and wrote the original story in the late 1600s, Beauty and the Beast, with its basic premise of beauty conquering ugliness, has been – and still is – one of the major staple stories told in nurseries, books, plays, and, movies. However, if you look closely, none were/are parallel to or true to the, um, "true" story.

When Linda sent me a tape of the lyrics and music she had written for a previously produced version for small children, I was, of course, intrigued and accepted the challenge. Since our first musical, We Three Kings  (to be released this summer), was a huge box office success that past holiday season, I was eager to once again stretch my newly-found script writing muscles and have my words come alive again in front of the dazzling footlights. Stage fever and the promise of fame struck me again.

So, just as I did for We Three Kings, I did a profound amount of research. What and whom I discovered is, in itself, a beautiful story.

Madame Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was a popular French novelist in the mid-1700s. When her first marriage ended in a somewhat nasty divorce, she became for a time a governess for an English family. Bedtime for the children consisted of her telling them stories. One of them was her embellished version of Barbot de Villeneuve's timeless tale. Since that version of Beauty and the Beast was quite long and could not easily be told in one sitting, Leprince de Beaumont made a series out of it – much like our soap operas and television epics (like Once Upon a Time) are now. The story continued in cliff-hanging parts for nights on end. The children were so thrilled, they begged her to write them all down. Which she did. It became in Europe an almost instant bestseller. (You can find a reprint of the original on either Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble). It is this version that has stood the test of time – until certain "powers" in the entertainment world decided to re-write it.

In 1946, the French filmmaker Jean Cocteau made a stunning black and white movie starring Jean Marais as the Beast and Josette Day as Beauty. I had -- still have – a remastered VHS of it. It was/is so brilliantly conceived and created, and so closely faithful to Leprince de Beaumont’s original story, that it was to this film, as well as the original story, that I first turned. Using its basic elements – I couldn’t use the live candelabra or the magical horse because of copyright issues – I wrapped the story around Linda's beautiful music and delightfully poignant lyrics. And although I had ample opportunites to do so, I had decided not to see the Disney musical until after our version had opened, lest it cloud my creative writing judgment.

I had the pleasure of being in Atlanta for the premier of Beauty and the Beast. Standing in the back of the theater in what is known as "playwright's alley", I was able for the first three nights running to watch my dialogue and Linda's music and lyrics come alive. I was also able to see and hear the audience's reactions. The first two nights it was more than positive; on both nights, the curtain closed to standing ovations. The third night, during intermission, I watched two excited teenage girls scamper up the aisle, laughter bubbling between them.

"This is my third time seeing this," one exclaimed to the other. "I can't get enough of it...It's better than Disney!"

Hearing that was, for me, a richly rewarding, memorable moment in a lifetime of writing. And now, Linda and I have the honor of sharing our musical with you in the hopes that you, too, will agree with that young woman.

And that, perhaps, in your living rooms and/or theaters our Belle and the Beast will come to life again.
1:15 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,