By Sister Nancy Linenkugel
Recently I played in the pit orchestra for the “Beauty and the Beast” musical at Seton/Elder High Schools on the west side of Cincinnati. On the evening of the first performance, I came early not only because the orchestra had an early call time but also because I wanted to get a fairly close parking place since I wasn’t keen on hauling my cello a mile.
I arrived in good time and was sitting in the car reading. It wasn’t long and one of the violinists came by, knocked on the window, had her instrument plus an armful of papers she was working on, and so she joined me in the car. It was a rainy late afternoon, she had come early, too, and so we enjoyed just sitting and chatting in a cozy spot.
She happens to be very active as a Third Order Franciscan in an Episcopal group and knows that I’m a Catholic Franciscan, so her first words were, “So how do you think St. Francis would regard ‘Beauty and the Beast’”? It was a fun conversation and I’d like to share the high points with you.
But first—a brief synopsis. “Beauty and the Beast” is a French fairy tale about love and faithfulness. A prince is visited by an enchantress in the form of an old beggar woman who offers him a rose. The prince doesn’t want the rose and also wants nothing to do with her, presuming that she’s poor and unworthy of his interest. In retaliation, she puts a curse on the prince and everyone in his household that takes away part of their humanity so they become whatever their lives represent.
For example, the head of the household, Cogsworth, is always tense and easily ticked off by others, so he becomes a grandfather clock. Another household member, Lumiere, instead is positive and looks for the good in situations, so he becomes a candle. Ladies in the castle aren’t exempt from the curse, either; for example, Madame de la Grande Bouche was vain and concerned about her appearance, so she became a vanity/armoire. The person in charge of hospitality, Mrs. Potts, became a tea pot.
The handsome prince himself was changed into a frightening, nasty, horned Beast. The castle curse could only be lifted if the Beast fell in love with a woman before all the petals came off the rose. Becoming lovable and seeing beyond appearances is key in this story in order to become human again.
So how is this fairy tale Franciscan? My violin friend and I readily agreed on the following:
So who would we cast in a Franciscan “Beauty and the Beast”?
The Prince/The Beast = St. Francis of Assisi
Lumiere (light) = St. Clare
Belle/The Beauty = Lady Poverty
Beggar Woman/Enchantress = Christ
By then it was time to get into place in the orchestra pit, so we did that with some new insights into the story before us.