The musical "Beauty and the Beast", which premiered on Broadway in 1994, was written by Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (lyrics) and Linda Woolverton (libretto). The musical was based on the 1991 Disney film of the same name, on which the same authors had worked. The musical’s Broadway run spanned several years with more than 5,500 performances, which makes it one of the most successful works of its genre.
The story follows Belle, a young girl who lives in a small village, motherless, alone with her hard-working father. She enjoys reading, which is why the village considers her odd. The smug Gaston, an ex-soldier who wants her as his wife, is in love with her, although Belle does not reciprocate his affections. One day, her father suffers an accident on his annual trip to the fair, and when he does not return home, Belle decides to look for him herself. She finds him imprisoned by a dreadful beast in an enchanted castle. Belle sets her father free by willingly taking his place as the terrible Beast’s new prisoner. From the other enchanted occupants of the castle who were once human but are now trapped in the likenesses of ordinary objects—dishes or pieces of furniture—Belle learns that the Beast himself was once a young and handsome prince. An enchantress had cast a spell on him for rejecting a rose she had offered, and now he must remain in the form of a beast until he finds true love. Belle, although a prisoner, enjoys the castle’s many comforts and spends time with the Beast, slowly becoming aware of his kind heart and interesting personality.
Although a classic fairy tale in appearance, the story abounds in many symbolic elements; some of them could be perceived as very brave and almost feminist, especially for the times in which the story has its roots. Most importantly, there are obvious indications that the authors' primary intention was to warn that beauty is on the inside, not on the outside, and that a book should not be judged by its cover, but by its contents.