Last Updated on 13th July 2022
Douglas Mayo reviews Disney’s Beauty and the Beast now playing at the London Palladium following a tour of regional theatres.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
It was the animated feature of Beauty and the Beast that prompted Frank Rich – the butcher of Broadway” to comment in the New York Times :- “The Hit That Got Away – The best Broadway musical score of 1991 was that written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman for the Disney animated movie “Beauty and the Beast.” Mr. Ashman, who died of AIDS this year, and Mr. Menken were frequent collaborators Off-Broadway but have never worked as a team on a Broadway musical.” Whilst Ashman and Menken had scored a huge hit with the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop Of Horrors this comment by Frank Rich sparked the imagination of Disney executives and not long after the newly formed Disney Theatrical Productions came into being to develop and bring Beauty and her Beast to the Broadway stage.
London’s original Beauty and the Beast at the Dominion Theatre allowed Disney to show its theatrical muscle, whereas this Beauty and the Beast revival comes in from touring around the UK and dates for further touring have already been announced.
The musical at times looks a wee bit lost on the enormous Palladium stage, a few larger set pieces are complimented by video projection and a very large video wall at the back of the stage which helps to move us around the Beast’s vast castle with ease, with some very large rotating decorative mouldings on giant flexible arms employed by designer Stanley A Meyer and video designer Darrel Maloney.
The strength of this revival lies very much in the hands of magical objects living in the castle. Gavin Lee (Lumiere), Sam Bailey (Mrs. Potts) Nigel Richards (Gogsworth), Emma Caffrey (Babette) and Samantha Bingley (Madam), keep the comedy flowing and provide so much of the magic and endearing fairytale charm.
The emergence of Shaq Taylor’s Beast from darkened corners of the resulted in a powerful rendition of If I Can’t Have Her. Let’s just say that when this Beast roars it is magic!
Sad to report that Gaston and Nefou never seemed to hit their mark, the Gaston production number had so many visual jokes that half of them were lost. Gaston’s demise at the castle was quite brilliant and exexpected. Courtney Stapleton’s Belle showed promise but so many of her songs seemed too melodramatic.
What should have been the Act One showstopper to end all showstoppers Be Our Guest looked great but the central conceit that this is a production number presented by the castle staff now transforming into utensils went astray. After five dinner plates, it seemed the magic of an enchanted magical dinner service went out the window replaced with what looked like a not-too-bad theme park show complete with fan dancers, can-can girls, and aerial video of a reasonable Busby Berkley number. You had to wonder if they scraped the basis of this beloved magical number as it just couldn’t be afforded.
With a show band less than half of the show’s original lush orchestra, the show’s sound designer John Shivers seems at times to be relying on volume to compensate for missing players and as a result, some lyrics are getting lost in the mix.
The opening night audience yelled and whooped and whooped loud and long, and don’t get me wrong the guts of this heart-warming tale remain, but this tour deserved some extra spend before hitting on the West End’s most revered stages.