Beauty and the Beast is a Disney classic, a staple of their dominance in the 1990’s when it comes to animated musicals. Coupled with one of the most successful composers of the modern musical, Alan Menken, and Beauty and the Beast has a sure-fire street to success.
The play is the story of Belle (Courtney Stapleton), a young girl longing to escape from her dreary everyday life and see the big wide world (you can’t fault Disney for their recycling). Along the way she is captured by a hideous Beast (Emmanuel Kojo), whose only prospect of a return to normality is to love and be loved in return, but first he must learn to leave his selfish self behind. It must be said that in this production the Beast was not all that Beastly, as he still cut a lean, attractive figure throughout.
The marketing states that this is a reimagined production of Beauty and the Beast, and it would be fair to say this is accurate. The use of screens and projections was simply fantastic, and always felt fresh, and more importantly were used only to add to the production, whether that be to the narrative or to the spectacle. The use of projections and screens did not take anything away from the staging however, which can often be the case – both the staging and choreography were masterful. It was impossible to take your eyes off the production.
Stapleton and Kojo led the cast beautifully, as Stapleton offered all the strength of character required by Belle, backed up by her beautiful singing and powerhouse dancing, with Kojo giving a powerful rendition of ‘If I can’t love her’ in the Act 1 finale, to great ovation. The standout performances of the evening however came in the shape of the fantastic duo of Lumiere (Gavin Lee) and Cogsworth (Nigel Richards). The essence of Beauty and the Beast is that it is a family show, and Lee and Richards offered comedy characters that worked on all levels, and were wonderfully supported by Mrs Potts (Sam Bailey), who it would be fair to say is still a vocal phenomenon. As an audience when the clock, candlestick and the teapot were off-stage, we were always looking forward to them returning.
‘Be Our Guest’ is a classic ensemble number, and was the highlight of this evening’s performance, led wonderfully by Lee. It captured the very essence of musical theatre, with a tap-dancing routine to compete with even the greatest shows. The ensemble in this production is fantastic vocally and in terms of movement. Each ensemble number was as strong as the next. Special mention to the sound team for the fantastic balance here.
The production really did have a fresh feel and was a fantastic evening’s entertainment for all the family. The children in the audience became really involved with the show, which dips a toe into the realms of pantomime.
It did seem that voice types had been ill-considered for certain roles. More than one Baritone role was played by a clear Tenor, which resulted in a lot of the Libretto being delivered as dialogue, or being barely audible when sung at pitch, because it was just too low. This is not a question of the quality of the cast, but sometimes square pegs simply cannot be coerced into round holes.
Beauty and the Beast is well worth a visit when it comes to a theatre near you, and if you have kids, they will adore this spectacular production.
Thank you to ATG and the Empire for their fantastic hospitality.
Beauty and the Beast continues at the Empire until the 16th October before embarking on a UK and Ireland tour. https://www.beautyandthebeastmusical.co.uk/
Reviewer: Andrew Lee
Reviewed: 29th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★