Howard Ashman songs: title song from Beauty and the Beast (lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken)
“As close to perfection as I could imagine.” - Alan Menken, The Music Behind the Magic
This song throbs at the heart of all of Ashman’s work, shining with a sparkling clarity that burns for an eternity of life and love. The tender beauty of Ashman’s most heartfelt poem is accompanied by worthy music by Alan Menken that compliments it perfectly with a bittersweet, elegant grace. And not an easy task that would have been to create. The music soars, ebbs and flows, but doesn’t overpower the truth that it is carrying; the number is the spiritual core of the film, expressing what it means to feel. It begins with a soft piano and ends in a soft “goodnight” – we witness a “tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme”, “tune as old as song, bittersweet and strange” come into being before us inside the atmospheric dome of the enchanted ballroom.
Ashman has immortalized himself and his work with this song, for which he won his posthumous Academy Award, for the hearts of all who hear it become instantly imprinted by its strange beauty and unexplainable emotive power. This song, in a way, is about transformation. Everything seems to fall into place; as beast becomes human, man becomes immortal. Fear becomes love and tear-filled joy. Everything stands still as the Beast and Belle swirl across the ballroom floor under the knowing watch of heaven’s cherub angels, and the audience’s hearts hang on to every word. A fairytale unfolds.
Howard’s raw, shaky, heartfelt rendition breaks my heart. The irony of the knowing proclamation “ever just as sure as the sun will rise” stings, as the sun set on Howard’s life before he could see his perfect creation come to full fruition. But soon enough, dawn rose upon Beauty and the Beast, glittering in its revelatory truth, its transcending beauty, and its heartbreaking romance.
This isn’t just a song. It also isn’t just theatre. It’s much more. Its emotional clarity renders everything else obsolete. This moment of suspended reality teaches what it means to love and be loved. The pure truth connects with the soul so brilliantly and so beyond cerebral understanding that it feels as though the song must have been in existence since the human heart was born. Its perfect rhyme must have been sung at the dawn of time itself, lying dormant within us until Beauty and the Beast was crafted, and this central human truth became real. Like coming home. It was fate.
“True as it can be”, Howard’s not singing about the characters, but of humanity itself. Beauty and the Beast is very real; it is pain, and it is love, and it is a dying man’s parting song. It is an absolute triumph.