Alan Menken’s classic score is shown off to its best in this suitably charming production based on Disney’s animated film.
Heading to London for a limited season as part of its UK tour, this new production of Beauty & the Beast is a vibrant and dazzling experience that while retaining many elements of the film it is based on, adds something a little bit extra to give it more depth.
Beginning with the famous prologue, which on this occasion is narrated by Angela Lansbury, the audience is soon swept on Belle’s adventure from desperately seeking an escape from the the village that she lives in surrounded by people who don’t understand her intellect to the mysterious enchanted castle in which the Beast lives and who must learn to love to help break the spell he and his household staff are under.
Directed and choreographed by Matt West, there is plenty to dazzle audiences – not least the wonderful show stopping sequence created for ‘Be Our Guest’ (that brings to mind 42nd Street), or the gorgeous routine for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for example. But it is also the way in which potentially difficult sequences that are staged with the help of innovative projection and video design by Darrel Maloney to bring slightly darker moments such as the wolf’s attack to life, while Jim Steinmeyer’s illusion design is impressive to make the audience thoroughly believe that what they are seeing is real. This is particularly seen in the opening prologue.
Yes while Stanley A. Meyer’s set design perhaps is a little bit more sparse than expected, it does mean that the variety of scene changes required are smooth and seamless and there is still plenty of attention paid to detail to sweep audiences from the village to the enchanted castle with style. It could also be said that there felt as though there was a slight sound issue and I felt that some of the vocals were slightly lost – particularly during the opening number ‘Belle’.
What I also appreciated about this production is the way in which the concept and the cast themselves offer deeper interpretations of the characters themselves. In particular Shaq Taylor’s portrayal of Beast adds a tad of humour to proceedings as he attempts to change his attitude and become a ‘gentleman’ – his awkward mannerisms as he does this is genuinely endearing to watch, while vocally he is wonderfully rich when performing ‘If I Can’t Love Her’. Meanwhile, Courtney Stapleton offers a much stronger interpretation of Belle than I have seen before, really allowing Belle’s intellect and compassion shine through, with her performance of ‘A Change in Me’ proving to be a real highlight.
Elsewhere, there is great support in the form of Gavin Lee as Lumiere is wonderfully flamboyant and excellent match for Nigel Richards as the more straight laced Cogsworth – a great double act who provide many of the laughs throughout. Tom Senior has plenty of swagger as Gaston and Sam Bailey has plenty of warmth and charm to endear audiences to her. It is a strong cast who clearly are enjoying making the most of every moment in the show.
Filled with dazzling choreography and plenty of magic that will delight everyone no matter their age this production is a welcome addition to the West End. It is a refreshing take on a tale that is as old as time.
By Emma Clarendon