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Beauty and the Beast West End review – Disney musical makes stylish return to London

The show plays a London season during its ongoing tour

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Courtney Stapleton and Shaq Taylor in Beauty and the Beast
© Disney, photo by Johan Persson

It has never been easier to see a stage adaptation of a beloved Disney film than it is this summer in London, as Frozen, The Lion King and Mary Poppins are joined in the West End by Beauty and the Beast. This new staging of the Olivier Award winning musical is playing a limited engagement at The London Palladium amidst a UK and Ireland Tour and features one of Alan Menken's most beloved and iconic scores.

Though the flashy production is a new one, it reunites members of the show's original creative team over two decades later to collaborate once again. Original set designer Stanley A Meyer has traded lavish scenery for a sparser reinterpretation, with limited set pieces and clever use of a video screen, while within the castle three Rococo-style scrolls are used to create a variety of different rooms. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes are perhaps even more characterful than when she first designed for the show, with the designs for the servants proving particularly striking.

The show's original choreographer Matt West has now risen to the rank of director and as well as providing stunning extended dance sequences he has implemented resourceful staging that makes innovative use of projections to sidestep logistical challenges such as the appearance of a pack of wolves (who are notoriously difficult to work with). "Be Our Guest" remains a thrilling showstopper led coyly by Gavin Lee's Lumiere, though it is worth remembering that this number began its life as a theatricalisation of a dinner, and the shelving of the dancing cutlery in favour of yellow costumed can-can dancers feels disappointingly generic.

As the bookish Belle, Courtney Stapleton offers a genuine sweetness, though she seems to have been directed towards emotional extremes, rarely finding much ground between sorrow and euphoria. This does, however, set her up for knockout performances of "Home" and "A Change in Me" that draw thunderous applause thanks to her stratospheric vocal delivery. The Beast to her Beauty is portrayed by Shaq Taylor, a rising talent whose mellifluous voice feel more suited to romance than aggression, and truly enough as his character softens, he quickly becomes more engaging. Though he looks the part, Tom Senior struggles to find his footing in the lower register of his character, Gaston and he isn't plenty helped by an odd staging of the song named after him which is overstuffed with half-baked visual gags.

An unexpected breakout performance is given by Samantha Bingley, making her professional debut as Madame de la Grande Bouche. Not content to let a cumbersome costume swallow her, Bingley makes compelling use of every syllable she can find in the script. Lee's Lumiere and Nigel Richards' Cogsworth are also a predictably charming and side-splittingly funny double act while Sam Bailey is consistently warm and endearing as Mrs Potts, no more so than when she performs a pathos-filled rendition of the titular song.

At times the show's emotional impact and depth feel pre-empted by its many technical demands, an admittedly thrilling piece of stage magic necessitates half-light and a gauze curtain which obstruct a pivotal emotional moment at the show's conclusion. This being said, it is difficult to envision many theatregoers not enjoying this show, though it may have a small handful of dramaturgical drawbacks, it delivers on so many fronts with powerhouse performances, dazzling magical effects and awe inspiring company numbers.

One thing is ‘certain as the Sun' and that's how many families will make up the Palladium's audience for the next three months. Some of those families will include young Black children who can see themselves represented onstage – as well as in the show's marketing and merchandise materials – which is a wholly wonderful thing.

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