The story is believed to be around 500 years old, and has been the subject of plays, pantomimes and Disney’s lavish animated film, then turned into a big-budget stage musical.
Now producers Martin Dodd and Peter Frosdick have put their own production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast out for a lengthy national tour. And for charm, magic, a simple love story and some good old-fashioned musical theatre pizzazz, you’d be hard pushed to beat it.
I always believed the original Disney musical to be big on spectacle and less so on sheer heart, turning it at times into a dazzling, glittering, lavish panto. And while Dodd and Fosdick’s UK Productions has clearly invested a lot of cash into its biggest tour to date - with a large cast and orchestra, and a transformation scene which had even this keen-eyed-critic convinced - the warmth of the real story is never lost.
Of course, with a score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, you’re already into strong territory, and there’s no denying the brilliance of numbers such as “If I Can’t Love Her” and the award-winning title number.
But director and choreographer Alison Pollard has put together a stellar company to tell the story of a feisty young lady who dreams of escaping the provincial town in which she’s grown up. When her father is unwittingly imprisoned by a towering beast in his magical castle, she offers her own life for his freedom.
Of course, true beauty is much more than skin deep, and as Belle and the Beast become friends and fall in love, the Beast’s curse is broken.
Nic Greenshields always retains a glimmer of the real man beneath the Beast’s werewolf-like surface, and Katie Rowley-Jones brings sweetness and maturity to Belle without being saccharine.
Laughs come thick and fast for Michael Quinn’s macho villain Gaston, all bulging biceps and cartoon-esque mannerisms, and fabulous Ashley Vallance’s comically brilliant Lefou, who manages to combine innocent downtrodden charm with an irrepressible loyalty to his master. The slapstick twosome sing and dance up a storm and it’s their big number “Gaston” which really kick starts the show, and the audience, midway through act one.
As for the enchanted household objects, Mark Inscoe lights up the show, literally, as Lumiere, with the showstopper “Be Our Guest”, while Tania Newton makes Mrs Potts a wise and loveable friend, and the ensemble is energetic and hard-working throughout.
Enchanting and emotive, hilarious and heart-warming, the kids all around me loved it, and so did I. A beauty of a show.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham)