Note: This review dates from August 1997 and the production's original West End run at the Dominion Theatre.
Disney's stage production of its classic feature cartoon Beauty and the Beast is a real spectacle, with lights, effects, action and a magnificent score of memorable songs.
There's no need to describe the plot, I think we all know it. But has Disney successfully balanced the fairy-tale aspect, whilst maintaining the interest of an adult audience? It can't be denied, Beauty is a full-blown fantasy, and Disney makes no apologies for this, which is possibly the secret of its success. But, be warned, if you're not willing to suspend your disbelief, you'd be safer sticking with Ibsen.
The main feature of the stage version is its lavishness. From the cartoonish-cubist houses of Belle's village, to the rich complexities of the castle, the sets are sumptuous and almost constantly changing. Yet this movement remains remarkably unobtrusive. The costumes too are extravagant, but they have to be to convince an audience that the cutlery and crockery are really dancing in Cages Aux Folles style across the stage.
It's not all glitz and glamour though, with impressive cast performances as well. There's a little slapstick provided by Gaston's terminally useless servant, Lefou (Richard Gauntlett). The most enjoyable character is the deliciously evil Gaston, (Burke Moses) playing the villain to the hilt in time-honoured Disney tradition. A few children may disagree with this, but he gets his come-uppance, so there are no complaints in the end. Belle is portrayed by Julie-Alanah Brighton as a very modern heroine, strong, smart and sassy. But that was always the difference between Belle and Snow White. The Beast, played by Alasdair Harvey, is sympathetic and, dare I say it, convincing, but somewhat overshadowed by his staff, in particular the superb Lumiere (John Polhamus on the night), Cogsworth (Barry James), and Mrs Potts (Mary Millar).
In my opinion, Disney has been totally successful in handling the production of Beauty and the Beast. There are special effects, amazing sets and a fantastical plot, but Robert Jess Roth's sensitive direction ensures the pantomime aspects aren't allowed to take the whole show over. This is an entirely enchanting evening at the theatre.
Michaela Smith, August 1997