I can't say that I grew up on the Disney version of this classic fairy tale - I am far too old for that - but I have known the film for many years. When, in 1994, Disney took the decision to adapt one of their most successful films for the stage, they were taking a risk - and given the success this (and subsequent) adaptation has had,it has clearly paid off for them.
This touring production tries hard to capture the splendour and vigour of the original film and stage version but always seems to come up short in comparison. Director Alison Pollard seems to be confused as to whether she is staging a musical or a pantomime. There are moments of broad humour in the script but she often allows the tone to shift from the magical romance of the originals to something a lot coarser and inappropriate for the work. There is a delicacy of touch that is necessary for fairy tales and she has not demonstrated that here. A cheap laugh is exactly that - cheap.
One of my biggest complaints about modern musicals is the over-use of amplification. Throughout the evening, my ears were assaulted by a wall of noise that rendered the lyrics completely inaudible. I know it takes a lot of effort to fill a huge space such as the New Theatre but there was such a disconnect between the performers and the sound of their voices coming through the sound system as they might have well just mimed to a pre-recorded track.
The evening also suffered from a lack of pace. Whether this was just how the production had been planned or the cast were just lacking in energy on this occasion, it felt slow. This was particularly noticeable in the action sequences - such as the Wolf Chase and the Battle - where the choreography really lacked the forward momentum necessary to convey the drama. For a show aimed at the family market, having a running time that exceeds two and a half hours is just not fair on the little ones.
Shaun Dalton made a credible Beast. He has a very pleasing baritone and coped well with his ballad at the end of the first act. His performance was marred only by being required to 'ham up' some of the scenes in search of easy comedy. Strip those away and he would have been near-ideal in the role.
As Belle, Ashley Oliver is somewhat of a disappointment. She moves well and looks right for the part but her interpretation verges on the annoying. I know this is somewhat of a trait in many Disney heroines but she lacked a certain warmth that would have won the heart of the Beast. Her voice is pleasing - though there is an audible gearshift when she moves from her chest voice to the upper parts of her register.
The sets are well-above the norm you see for most touring productions as are the costumes. I felt that there was an over-reliance on animation in the production. Yes, the show was adapted from a film but we are in a theatre and there are many ways of using theatrical effects to portray the same events.
All in all, this is an adequate piece of family entertainment. There is nothing spectacular about it and, for those who love the film, it serves as a pleasing reminder of a classic animated film.