It may be a ‘tale as old as time’, but Disney’s latest iteration of its Beauty & The Beast stage musical belongs firmly in the 21st Century. Every up-to-date bit of technological stage wizardry available has been thrown at it to create a spectacular, multi-media theatrical experience. Stunning lighting effects, some genuinely gorgeous projections on backcloth and proscenium gauze, and a stage that never seems to stop moving combine with some old-fashioned visual sleights of hand to generate the kind of jaw-dropping magic that is just what this fairy-tale calls for.
Stage spectacles on this scale can sometimes eclipse the work of the actors telling the story, and the humanity in the story being told. Happily, this is not the case here. Understudy, Grace Swaby-Moore is a charming and charismatic Belle and manages with skill and conviction her character’s gradual realisation that she cannot judge the Beast based on his appearance. Shaq Taylor brings compelling pathos to the role of the Beast, and Tom Senior is at first hilarious and then convincingly menacing as the narcissistic Gaston.
As the Beast’s servants, transformed into domestic objects by the curse, Gavin Lee, Sam Bailey, Nigel Richards, Samantha Bingley and Emma Caffrey skillfully manage the high comedy while never losing sight of the fear, courage and camaraderie experienced by the characters as they face their perverse fate.
The music, with one of two notable exceptions, is efficiently functional; strong enough to get into your head, but not strong enough to stay there for long. Sam Bailey gives an exquisitely shaped and heart-felt rendition of the rather lovely title song. Elsewhere, there is sometimes a little too much emphasis on delivering the big notes and not enough on the smaller notes in-between, and some of the younger voices are a little underpowered in the lower register.
Lavish dance numbers abound. “Be our guest”, one of the standout songs of the show, is given the full Buzby Berkley treatment with high-kicking chorus lines, precision tap sequences and even aerial views of dancers forming kaleidoscopic shapes projected onto the backcloth. This is the type of outrageous, gratuitous theatrical extravagance we just don’t see enough of anymore.
A bona fide blockbuster of a show, Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes and carries real emotional punch. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will most definitely enjoy.
Voice of the Prologue Narrator – Angela Lansbury
Belle – Grace Swaby-Moore
Beast – Shaq Taylor
Lumiere – Gavin Lee
Gaston – Tom Senior
Mrs Potts – Sam Bailey
Cogsworth – Nigel Richards
Maurice – Martin Bell
Madame – Samantha Bingley
Bebette – Emma Caffrey
Le Fou – Louis Stockil
Chip – Manasseh Mapira, Iesa Miller, Theo Querico, Rojae Simpson
Music – Alan Menken
Lyrics – Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book – Linda Woolverton
Director and Choreographer – Matt West
Musical Director – Jonathan Gill
Scenic Design – Stanley A Meyer
Costume Design – Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting Design – Natasha Katz
Sound Design – John Shivers
Hair & Make-Up Design – David H Lawrence
Illusion Design – Jim Steinmeyer
Projection/Video Design – Darrel Maloney
Resident Director and Choreographer – Kella Paney
Orchestrations – Danny Troob
Music Supervision and Arrangement – Michael Kosarin