There is no doubt that this is a Disney production. It even begins in the style of the cartoons with a filmed introduction of a book opening just in case we were unaware of the origins of the story.
Fortunately Linda Woolverton’s script, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, bring also some of the quality of the House of Mouse. To ensure a full evening’s entertainment some additional numbers supplement the original songs. These might give value for money but do make the first Act that little bit too long for comfort.
When an arrogant prince offends a disguised witch he is transformed into a Beast (Shaun Dalton) until he can learn to love and be loved. As his humanity dwindles the Beast takes prisoner an elderly inventor (Richard Colson) until his romantic daughter Belle (Ashley Oliver) offers to replace the old man. The household staff hope that Belle and the Beast may learn to love each other and so break the spell that has transformed them all.
Director and choreographer Alison Pollard aims the production at the younger members of the audience. The show is well paced so that even when a crowd-pleasing song is not being performed there are enough scary jolts, loud bangs or good laughs to hold the attention and provide entertainment.
For such a prestigious show, there is a disappointing lack of spectacle though. Charles Camm's set is static and the painted backdrops of the village and filmed images of the woods do not really catch the imagination. Dry ice has to be used to add atmosphere.
The budget seems to have been spent on the costumes designed by Elizabeth Dennis that bring the cartoon images to life in glorious bright colours. Belle’s dress in the famous ballroom scene draws applause even before the dance begins. The costumes allow also a nice in-joke by dressing the villain Gaston (Ben Harlow) in the style of a character from the children’s show Lazytown.
The whole cast are excellent, including the ensemble. Oliver must have cartoon ink in her veins to catch the slightly exaggerated air needed to flesh out Belle. Her petite size works well when balanced against her larger co-stars Dalton and Harlow.
Dalton gives us a Beast that is child-like rather than childish in his defensive reluctance to accept the possibility of love. Ashley Knight and Phil Barley are terrific as the friends Cogsworth and Lumiere desperately trying to retain humanity against the odds. Harlow is a stylised and hugely enjoyable villain and his Gaston is very funny. Vocally, the cast are on the money as they add emotion where required and the delivery is clear and crisp.
Even though the production values are not all one could hope for, this is a fine show that certainly satisfies the young target audience.