NOTE: The following review dates from June 2002 and an earlier tour stop for this production.

When the might of Disney decided to make its first venture into live musical theatre, there was little choice as to which show to produce. Beauty and the Beast had already proved a huge success on the big screen, so the only question was how it would transfer onto a vast live stage.

After a West End run, the show is now out on the road again, with Annalene Beechey and Alistair Robins playing out this millennium version of the classic fairy tale with style and plenty of heart.

Beechey's feisty heroine is a Belle for the 21st century, a good girl with a whole load of cheeky and feminist independence, looking beyond the outward appearance of the grumpy Beast and finding his inner charm, thus breaking the curse on him and returning him to handsome prince status.

Robins' Beast manages to remain vulnerable even at his angriest, leaving no doubt as to the characteristics which Belle find so appealing, although it does leave room to wonder why he was selfish enough to be cursed in the first place.

All the charm and heart of the story comes from the tender moments shared by the two leads, although there's an abundance of Disney magic including pyrotechnics, rain and a fantastic, apparently levitating, transformation from Beast to Prince.

As for the Disneyesque characters in the Beast's castle - well, their costumes (designed by Ann Hould-Ward) are ingenious; their characters (dare I say it?) animated and performances likeable enough, particularly Stephen Matthews as Lumiere and Barry James as Cogsworth. But it's former Fascinating Aida founder member Marilyn Cutts who shines out as Mrs Potts, particularly when singing the title number.

Also hilariously cartoon-like is Ben Harlow's Gaston, who stays true to the Disney film with almost plastic hair, bulging biceps and toothpaste smile, a fabulous bad guy send-up.

But despite the fireworks, flashing lights, realistic thunder, rain and lightning, the overall show leaves a peculiarly empty feeling at the end of the night. Some of the dance numbers have the feel of pantomime, albeit an overwhelmingly expensive, lavish one, and the only songs I came out humming were the two I'd known before curtain up - the title number and the showstopper "Be Our Guest".

While certainly not an awful experience, this is no beauty either.

- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at the Birmingham Hippodrome)