Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; book by Linda Woolverton
Opera House, Manchester
Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney's stage adaptations of its animated films which seeks, unlike the live version of The Lion King, to visually reproduce the look of the film as closely as possible using live actors.
Disney's version of the classic fairy tale is about a prince who has been turned into a hideous beast and his servants into household objects by a woman whom he spurned because of her looks. The spell can only be broken if someone grows to love him for himself and not for his appearance. Enter Belle, imprisoned by the Beast, who begins by hating him, but then Well, you get the idea. There is also a subplot of Belle being pursued by Gaston, the village hunk, who will not accept her refusal of him. The two plotlines are married together at the end as Gaston leads a Frankenstein-style storming of the castle by the villagers.
The film's look is reproduced remarkably well by set designer Charles Camm and costume designer Elizabeth Dennis, as well as by well-observed physical and vocal characterisations by the actors. At times it looks a little cramped on the tiny stage (in terms of today's large-scale musical productions) of the Opera House. This is especially noticeable in the large production number Be My Guest, which loses some of its impact and tries to compensate with some projected animation that is barely visible on the well-lit stage.
The performers look and move just like their animated predecessors, which for some characters, such as Gaston (Michael Quinn) and Lefou (Ashley Vallance) requires a very physical performance, something that both of these actors achieve very well. Adam Stafford and Mark Inscoe make a great double act as the clock Cogsworth and candlestick Lumiere. Tania Newton as the teapot Mrs Potts, who sings the title song, has created a lovely warm character while still remaining faithful to the original, as does David Oakley as Belle's father Maurice. It is also nice, amongst all this modern theatre technology, to see the Victorian disembodied head on the table trick used for the child character of Chip, the teacup, played by Sam Berkson and Sean Flanigan.
Katie Rowley-Jones is excellent as Belle, which is largely a traditional principle girl role with a bit of added intelligence and feistiness. When the Beast is being ferocious, the roars, slaps and other sound effects are pre-recorded; whilst the sound operator synchronises the sounds very well with the action, the slight dullness to the sound makes them sound rather feeble (this also applies to the wolves). However when Nic Greenshields is allowed to rely on his acting rather on any technical wizardry, he is wonderful as the bad-tempered but rather pathetic and ultimately warm and loving monster.
Even those who know the film version well will enjoy seeing this story brought to life on stage. Linda Woolverton's book keeps the story moving and ties everything up nicely at the end. Alan Menken's music is wonderful and deceptively complex at times with some great lyrics by the late and very much lamented Howard Ashman and by Tim Rice. This is good family entertainment, which would have been a much better show to have in Manchester over Christmas than most of the pantomimes produced now at the big theatres.
"Beauty and the Beast" runs until 22 October 2005
Peter Lathan reviewed this production at the Sunderland Empire
Reviewer: David Chadderton