I went to see Beauty and The Beast yesterday at Abrons Arts Center. A friend warned me it was “very very very very very raunchy. ” I know, that’s a lot of “verys.” After all, this was a Julie Atlas Muz (Beauty) and Mat Fraser (Beast) production. She of neo-burlesque fame (a former Miss Exotic World). He, a past winner of the UK’s Exotic Award for Best Male Striptease. So my expectations for a Disneyfied PG version (even an R rating) of their interpretation of this classic fairy tale of love and acceptance were low.
Any fears those of us in the audience might have had that we were going to possibly shed a tear for our lovers were quickly extinguished by Muz who early on plainly tells her Beast “there aren’t any fairy tales.” I can’t remember if this took place before or after she had us all join in and bark like dogs.
Was I disappointed? No. Was I surprised? Yes. In fact, I was moved. This Beauty, beautifully decorated in Gothic storybook style, sans shadow puppets, snarly rose bushes and wrought iron gates, was actually a very sweet interpretation. Ok, maybe sweet is not the exact word for it. Muz and Fraser are prolific conceptual and multi-disciplinary performers who have been shocking and delighting audiences around the world with their work, which is always filled with a “subervise lack of political correctness.”
Their milieu usually includes a sideshow style take on feminism, disability and entertainment; this production works in all of those elements (including a few clever moments with puppeteers and prosthetic arms) but it is even more lavish than usual. I was completely drawn into the world they created, often rooting for the Beast to win over Beauty—at times wondering, each time Beauty spurned Beast’s advances, who was more beastly?
The show starts out with Fraser and Muz facing the audience directly and explaining who they are. Fraser, a British “Thalidomide baby,” was born with short “seal” like arms (or “small and perfectly deformed arms,” as he calls them)– hence the Beast, and Muz, our Beauty, was just a restless and curious doe eyed American girl from the mid-west’s murder capital of the world, Detroit.
The pair continue in this style throughout the show as they break character to weave in stories about their own true-life fairy tale of how they met and fell in love, with the archetypical story of Beauty and the Beast.
The raunch? It is there, but it’s sly and playful, from the minute the inevitable attraction to each other begins to the moment they consummate their love for each other. As for the end? Let’s just say, they both enjoy a very “Happy Ending” — in every position imaginable!
Through March 30th // Abrons Arts Center – 466 Grand St. // $35 // 8:00 p.m.