Musical Review – Beauty and the Beast

Feb 3 2010 | By More


King’s Theatre: Run ends Sat 6 Feb 2010

It’s a full-on meringue frenzy at the King’s this week as Southern Light Opera stage the UK amateur premiere of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

It’s not giving anything away to say that come the finale, the cast can scarcely move around the stage – such is the amount of it taken up by the great hooped dresses of the female members of the company. Led, of course, by Belle, resplendent in the biggest of big white meringues with her transformed Beast, all rugged and handsome, by her side.

Meringue frenzy finale for Beauty and the Beast

Meringue frenzy finale for Beauty and the Beast

Before the fairytale happy ending, however, the company give a more than decent account of themselves. Any production of the show might be bound by the look of the film and the strictures of the Disney Corporation – but recent visiting productions have shown just how lacklustre and ragged around the edges it can become. Not so here.

The pace is just right as they set up the back story of the arrogant prince who rejected an ugly old woman’s request for a lodging and was turned into a beast. No fancy CGI, thank goodness, just old-fashioned tableaux while the strong, emphatic orchestra work their way through the overture.

It twinkles through the early scenes with young Belle, her head in a book, rejecting the advances of village lunk, Gaston. Only when her father Maurice loses his way in the woods and gets attacked by wolves does it lose its way itself. But the lax lupines are quickly forgotten as Maurice enters the now-magic castle.

There is just the right emphasis in Beast’s castle where the servants are all turning into things, a rose is drooping and if Beast cannot be loved by someone for himself, all will be lost. All praise to a hardworking technical crew who whisk the complicated castle scenery back and forth to keep the story skipping lightly along.

Belle and Lumiere in the show-stopping Be Our Guest

There are strong performances in all the right places throughout. Cat MacTaggart’s Belle (she alternates with Lauren Burnett in the role) is light of voice and possesses a believable level of self-will. Colin Cairncross is an interesting choice as Beast. He hasn’t the rough-hewn force in his lower range you might expect, but his delightfully rounded upper register hints at the prince who lies behind his dreadful looks in the heart-rending If I Can’t Love Her.

In the village, Lech Boron’s Gaston is an excellently created piece of smarm – in voice, looks and characterisation – while the three Silly Girls have a lascivious air that leaves little doubt as to what they get up to with him. Alan Hunter provides top knockabout comedy as Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou.

In the castle all the big memorable scenes fall out as they should. What the all-singing, all-dancing ensemble lack in high-kicking ability they make up for with their vibrant attack in the show-stopping Be Our Guest. There’s the odd cutlery clash, but it is good-looking, entertaining stuff.

The quartet of performers who play the key servants are right on form. Gary Gray is pomposity personified as Cogsworth, Alan Gow is all flaring nostrils and perfect poise as Lumiere, Elspeth Smith has a more-than-saucy wiggle as Babette and Dorothy Johnstone’s Mrs Potts is a proper chip off the old block.

Crucially, they succeed in bringing out the sense of urgency for Beast to find his Beauty – adding tension to a storyline that might otherwise lumber from one song to the next. Indeed, director Peter Robinson ensures that for all the Disneyfication and Oscar-winning songs, this never loses sight of the story.

Which just as well, as there are a few bumpy, under-awing moments along the way. The stage could be better miked for the ensemble, while the lighting design doesn’t quite keep up with the complexities of the set. But on the whole, it works as well as you would want, on both the performing and the technical sides.

A thoroughly entertaining production that does justice to the original, tells its story well and should leave you humming a few merry tunes on the way home.

Run ends Saturday 6 February

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  1. Michael says:

    Fantastic show! So professional in every aspect. So much better than the one at the Playhouse. Well done to everyone involved. Best Southern Light Opera show ever!