In the alarmingly beige conference room of a Beverly Hills hotel, the man who helped launch six princesses, more than a dozen musical films, and a national songbook of singalongs sits down at a piano.
And immediately “beige” is no longer accurate.
With just a few immediately evocative chords from Oscar-, Grammy- and Tony-winning composer Alan Menken, an equally familiar voice rises in glorious crescendo.
“Perfect adored paragooooon,” sings Josh Gad, with that unmistakable combination of bravado and vibrato. It’s a sound he honed as Elder Cunningham in the original Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon,” made ubiquitous with his portrayal of “Frozen’s” beloved snowman Olaf and now brought to Disney’s new live-action film “Beauty and the Beast.”
Gad, of course, is neither Beauty nor the Beast; he’s singing LeFou, the bumbling buddy of the story’s self-obsessed villain Gaston, played by Luke Evans, who gamely answers the musical call and harmonizes with Gad’s high note.
“We live in the clouds,” Gad jokes about their range. The many fans already following the duo’s singing Instagrams will not be surprised to know that the Evans and Gad pairing has already been praised as the film’s standout performance.
But before they can get into the next verse Evans stops; he’s forgotten the chorus. “So what’s the line?” he asks. “‘No one’s quick as Gaston, no one’s thick as Gaston’?”
Menken, at the piano, shoots Evans a phony look of disbelief, and loudly reminds the room that he’d handed out the lyrics to everyone earlier. The composer, of course, not only wrote the score for “Beauty and the Beast” (with lyrics by the late Howard Ashman), but also “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Enchanted,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and many others.
“I don’t know the lyrics because I don’t sing them,” Evans pleads. Gad, as helpful as his on-screen character, rapidly recites the lyrics from his villainous tribute.
It’s a chain reaction that brings Menken back to the piano, and Evans into full Gaston mode. Chest out, head back, he blossoms into a man who most certainly would use antlers in all of his decorating. And, sheesh, were his shoulders this big a moment ago?
The magic is real; it feels like a rowdy 17th century tavern in here, if only for a while. That has been the concern all along, whether the live-action film could recapture the thrill of the original film. From the moment Menken’s swirling, delicate refrain danced with the foreboding bass of the animated film’s prologue, the audience knew something special was coming. Twenty-five years later, that same feeling of anticipation is back, conjured, with the aid of one piano, by three guys in a conference room having a grand time talking about the next generation of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Because if it’s not baroque…