Growing up, my Beauty and the Beast VHS (remember those?) earned a lot of playtime and Belle edged out Ariel for the coveted title of my favorite Disney princess. At the time, I may not have been fully aware of why I liked Belle and her story the best; I probably just liked singing along to the songs. I also sported the same medium brown hair color as Belle. It’s too bad I never found a yellow dress worthy of the ballroom dress in the movie so I could dress up as her for Halloween.
Fast forward to last night at the Cadillac Palace Theater, now age 25. I’ve been anxiously waiting for the touring production of Beauty and the Beast to come back to Chicago since I missed the last tour in 2011. As we took our seats in the upper right corner of the balcony and looked down at the stage, I felt a tingle of anticipation. One of my most treasured stories was about to come to life right before my eyes. When the show began and the familiar tune of “Belle” rang through the theater, I began noticing all of the little nuances in the plot. Belle’s love of books, her clear disdain for Gaston, and her willingness to stand up to the Beast all added up. I came to the realization that Belle may have been one of the first strong female characters that I latched onto in my life.
While I’ve always claimed my love of France and all things French probably stems from this movie, now I have Disney to thank for giving me a strong heroine, too. One who prefers books with words to those with pictures, stands out from the crowd in her small town and dodges the town brute in favor of, and I quote, “no Prince Charming.” The musical itself delivered beyond what I imagined, with intricate dance numbers, witty one-liners and plenty of tender moments snuck in between the theatrics. Most of all, seeing it delighted the little girl inside of me and reaffirmed confidence in the woman I have become.