The Oscar-nommed actor noted that the film reunites him with Bill Condon, who previously directed him in “Gods & Monsters,” a sexually charged drama about homosexual filmmaker James Whale. Condon’s other films include “Dreamgirls” and two “Twilight” sequels.
As the cast took the stage, McKellen joked that “Beauty and the Beast” marks “another gay extravaganza” for Condon, which seemed to reference the blowback that the Disney film has faced over the sexual orientation of a supporting character played by Josh Gad. The line got huge laughs and applause from the audience in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Gad thanked McKellen for reminding him of what “a fun week” he’d had promoting “Beauty and the Beast” and that his character LeFou became a cultural hot button issue around the world. After Condon said that LeFou had “an exclusively gay moment” in an interview with Attitude, one Alabama theater declined to play the film, an Anglican bishop in Singapore condemned the picture, and Russian officials gave the family-friendly production a more restrictive rating owing to its gay content. Both Singapore and Russia are openly hostile to LGBT citizens and have enacted laws that deny rights to gay and transgender residents. Later on Monday it was announced that the film was pulled from release in Malaysia.
But LeFou’s sexuality isn’t loudly broadcast. He hero worships the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans) and makes a comment about not finding the right girl, but “Brokeback Mountain” it’s not. The subtlety has confused some critics. In his review, Variety’s Owen Gleiberman wrote that LeFou is “maximally silly and fawning, but I must have missed the memo where that spells ‘gay.'” There is one fleeting moment where LeFou dances with another man — a sequence that was greeted by the Big Apple crowd with claps of approval.
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Tucci, McGregor, Condon, and McKellen were joined onstage by fellow cast member Audra McDonald, as well as Dan Stevens and Emma Watson, who play the title characters. Like the animated film that inspired the new version of “Beauty and the Beast,” music plays a central role in the story. This edition of the classic fairytale includes renditions of such beloved songs as “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.” To that end, a live orchestra was on hand to play the film’s overture and Alan Menken, the composer of both the live action “Beauty and the Beast’s” scores, helped introduce the film.
The crowd at the screening included Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, film studio chief Alan Horn, studio president Alan Bergman, and production president Sean Bailey. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who voiced the parrot in “Aladdin,” and Richard White, the original voice of Gaston, were also in the audience.
Howard Ashman, the brilliant lyricist behind many of the film’s songs, died from AIDS complications in 1991 at the age of 40. His spouse, Bill Lauch, and his sister, Sarah Ashman-Gillespie, were on hand at the premiere.
“Beauty and the Beast” opens on Friday. It is expected to debut to as much as $120 million in North America, positioning it to be one of the year’s biggest hits.
WATCH: Emma Watson and the cast of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ bring the classic songs to life