Friday, June 6, 2014

Far, Far Away

Last night, we had tickets for the touring company performance of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. What a show!

The Peanut and I saw it a couple of years ago when they were in Morgantown, but Mr. ReddHedd missed that performance due to a severe hacking cough and fever, and we decided that Typhoid Bill was not an appropriate way to spend a matinee performance with hundreds of small children and their parents.  (You are welcome, people who were there.)

The performances were magical, and we were blessed with a live orchestra and not just canned music for the background, which is always pure heaven.  The sets were beyond amazing -- works of art, intricately built and multi-dimensional as they were folded and re-purposed over and over through the show by stagehands and actors dressed as gargoyles.

Pure genius.

But the star of this show, for me anyway, is always the soaring lyrics written by Howard Ashman, in his last work before AIDS took his life all too early.  During most of the time he was writing the music for this movie and show, AIDS was ravaging his body and tearing his life apart, and he was, at times, confined to his home and writing from his bed.

Howard Ashman's lyrics on The Mob Song still, sadly, ring true in a lot of quarters.  Imagine being a person who felt like other people looked at you this way every day:

It's a beast! One as tall as a mountain
We won't rest 'til he's good and deceased
Sally forth! Tally ho!
Grab your sword! Grab your bow!
Praise the Lord and here we go!
We don't like
What we don't understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns!
Bring your knives!
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!

Not exactly a "love your neighbor as you would have him love you" sort of sentiment in the hearts of those around you, is it?  How often do we see this, hear this, every day, even now?  This is not just a sentiment that was voiced during the fury and fear of the initial outbreak in the AIDS epidemic.  Some of us haven't developed nearly enough compassion and love for our fellow man in all those years.

It breaks my heart to think of a talent as brilliant as Howard Ashman, being shut up in his home, dying of AIDS, and writing these words. 

The brilliant song Home, written by Tim Rice - who was brought in to finish the Broadway show book once Howard passed away - speaks to the anguish at being taken too soon, before his heart had a chance to pour out all of its genius.
...Is this home?
Is this what I must learn to believe in?
Try to find
Something good in this tragic place
Just in case
I should stay here forever
Held in this empty space
Oh, but that won't be easy
I know the reason why
My heart's far, far away
Home's a lie...

The poignancy of his lyrics is so achingly haunting with that knowledge in the background.

If you have not seen this show, please go if you get the chance.  You won't regret it, for the staging and performances are amazing.  But it is the lyrics, the amazing written words of Howard Ashman, that will haunt you for days that follow.

Here he is talking briefly about his work on The Little Mermaid.  Great stuff!

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