Thursday, 28 July 2022

Sister Act - Review

 Eventim Apollo, London


****


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Bill Buckhurst


Beverley Knight and Company


Beverley Knight leads a cracking cast as the pandemic-delayed production of Sister Act finally arrives at the Eventim Apollo. In a glitter-ball enthused celebration of kitsch, Knight is on top form as singer Deloris Van Cartier, hiding for her life from her gangster boyfriend Curtis amidst the nuns of Philadelphia’s Church of Perpetual Sorrow convent.

The story is a Hollywood confection that taps into the joy of the human condition as Deloris brings sunshine and singing to the downtrodden sisters. Jennifer Saunders is perfectly cast as Mother Superior, catching her character’s nuances of disapproval with immaculate comic timing. Stunt-casting maybe, for Saunders cannot sing, but in a show that’s as much fun as this that’s no big deal. Elsewhere in the convent Leslie Joseph and Keala Settle are on fine form, but the standout turn amongst the nuns is Lizzie Bea’s Sister Mary Robert, displaying a vocal strength that is simply breathtaking.

Jeremy Secomb as Curtis is a delicious baddy and his take on When I Get My Baby is the best one-man tribute act to the 1970s that you are likely to see. It is Clive Rowe however as veteran cop Eddie whose soul number I Could Be That Guy offers up the standout male performance of the night.

Bill Buckhurst directs effectively within the shallow confines of the Eventim stage - ably assisted by Morgan Large’s designs and Alistair David’s choreography. Alan Menken’s score is a disco-driven collection of tunes, which while not being memorable are nonetheless gorgeously delivered by Jae Alexander’s 12 piece band.

For a night of slick West End entertainment that’s wonderfully performed, Sister Act is a delightful evening of musical theatre.


Runs until 28th August and then on tour
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Fashion Freak Show - Review

Roundhouse, London


****


Written, costumes designed and directed by Jean Paul Gaultier
Co-directed by Tonie Marshall


The company of Fashion Freak Show


From the myth to the mania to the man. Jean Paul Gaultier’s new revue - a cabaret extravaganza time-lining his life - is a vision to behold. A childhood dream revived by an adult, Gaultier’s imagination knows no bounds. From prancing teddy bears in conical bras to psychedelic stage sets, this is a show like no other. 

The spectacle starts simply. Nine-year-old Gaultier is an outcast at school, repeatedly scolded for drawing over listening, until the teacher peers closer and asks to keep a creation and thus the enfant terrible begins. What was at first a movie projection shatters into a million glittering pieces as dancers thrust onto the stage, breasts and all. Gaultier has arrived. Before long, he has his own fashion show, a scene physically divided into light and dark where the catwalk shines against a turbulent backstage.

Then there is the sex, metaphorically played out across a BDSM wheel. Two sets of dancers appear, entwined in oversized garments that stretch to fit them both. One pair is male, the other female. The same-sex couples intimately share their clothes, their space, their skin. Passion finds its home in this show, as Gaultier expresses himself with such conviction that at times it is the audience, rather than the performers, that looks mad. 

The show’s focus wanders after the interval, but is regained with the advent of Gaultier’s fame, projecting media headlines onto the cyclorama and reclaiming a sense of narrative. Powerfully and bathed in red, a dancer moves across the stage, straining against gravity. He is Francis Menuge, Gaultier’s long-time companion, dying from AIDS. 'I’ve got you', comes a song, 'deep in the heart of me', as an an actor playing Gaultier dances with his oversized garment, alone.

True to form, the show ends with a clothes-defying collection. Feathers sprout from heads, wires encase bodies, and ruffles adorn buttocks. We must use fashion, says Gaultier on a screen, not be used by it. Fashion Freak Show is an electrifying retrospective of Gaultier’s unique achievements. More so, it is a homage to fearlessness.


Runs until 28th August
Photo credit: Mark Senior

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Crazy For You - Review

Festival Theatre, Chichester


*****


Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman



The company of Crazy For You

Crazy For You is a modern musical created around much older Gershwin classic songs. Ken Ludwig’s 1992 book is framed around musical numbers that were by then already 60 years old and the songs are as great as much as the narrative is corny. Corny maybe - but the Festival Theatre have flown in Susan Stroman to direct and choregraph and the result is platinum-plated popcorn. Never has a Chichester audience been as electrified by a show as they witnessed, quite possibly for the first time in the theatre’s 60-year history, Stroman delivering Broadway to Chichester.

The story is delicious 1930s froth that hops between New York and the tumbledown town of Deadrock, Nevada, focussing on reluctant banker from the city Bobby Child and the improbable love that grows between him and country gal Polly Baker. Along the way (spoiler alert) to a happy ending there are rivalries and mistaken identities, all showcased amongst routines that display shimmering ballgown brilliance in one number and eye-popping bar-room shenanigans in the next. Stroman's creative genius sees her stun the audience not just with the bravado and talent of her company, but with her vision that can turn coils of rope and pickaxes into integral parts of her dancework.

Beowulf Borritt’s sets blazingly take the narrative to criss-cross the North American continent, while Ken Billington’s lighting design takes musical theatre illumination to a new level for the Sussex venue. The ensemble numbers are bathed in a brightness of light that only adds to the magic created by the performers.

Stroman is helped by having one of the finest companies in the land. Charlie Stemp leads as Bobby, the quadruple-threat wunderkind who makes his first return to musical theatre in Chichester since being launched to stardom six years ago in Half a Sixpence. Stemp has powered his way to stardom in both London and New York in those intervening years and the rapturous welcome that the locals showed to him last night defined the town's pride at having unearthed Stemp’s starring genius. His footwork is flawless and when scenes of intricate physical comedy were played out between him and Tom Edden (as impresario Bela Zangler), to witness Stemp and Edden side by side is to see probably two of the most talented physical performers of their generation.

Carly Anderson is Polly Baker. Another faultless musical theatre talent, Anderson is gifted some of the evening’s most poignant solos and her handling of both Someone To Watch Over Me and But Not For Me is sublime. Stroman’s deployment of her company in the large numbers is simply exhilarating, with Slap That Bass and Stiff Upper Lip proving to be choreographed confections of wit and talent in equal measure. Standing ovations in Chichester are rare, yet I Got Rhythm had the audience on their feet cheering as the first act ended. Equally, the spectacle of the show’s Finale was just pure Broadway perfection. Above the stage Alan Williams conducted his 16-piece orchestra immaculately, with Gershwin’s unforgettable melodies wonderfully delivered.

Cameron Mackintosh was in the audience on press night. One can only hope that when his Prince Edward Theatre in the West End becomes available next year, that Crazy For You returns to the theatre where it first played in  London. Until then, get to Chichester - musical theatre does not get better than this.


Runs until 4th September
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Saturday, 16 July 2022

Anything Goes - Review

Barbican Theatre, London



*****


Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse
New book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman
Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall




Kerry Ellis and the cast of Anything Goes

It says much for the quality of writing in the 1930s that nearly some 90 years after it opened on Broadway, Anything Goes can still pack a hilariously powerful punch with its heady cocktail of song and script. This is a show that lampoons (harpoons even) much of both British and American cultures and many of today’s emerging writers (with only a few exceptions) would do well to get themselves to the Barbican to see what good musical theatre – book, lyrics and score - really is.

Meanwhile, having completed its UK tour, the SS America returns to tie up in London, offering the capital another chance to wallow in the unabashed joyous glory of Kathleen Marshall’s Anything Goes. The big four names from last year’s outing of this revival are gone – replaced by Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeney, Simon Callow as Elisha Whitney, Bonnie Langford as Evangeline Harcourt and Denis Lawson as gangster Moonface Martin and for the most part this quartet are excellent.

What also drives this show immeasurably is the featured artistes who have remained onboard from 2021. Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker, Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope Harcourt and the deliciously named Haydn Oakley playing Lord Evelyn Oakleigh are all as magnificent now as they were then – with this whole crazy pot-pourri of a show giving rise to one of the most fantastic evenings of entertainment to be found anywhere in town.

The show’s songs and plot are the stuff of legend – this cast however take them to another level. Ellis captures the insouciant brilliance of Sweeney, not just in her perfectly pitched vocals and footwork, but in her delivery of the rapid-fire gags too. Good comedy requires not only a finely tuned script, but split-second delivery and Ellis (and her troupe) truly are the tops.

Callow was born to play crusty aristocrats, not least this Yale-educated captain of industry and he adds comic heft to an already inspired creation. The writers knew how to mock stereotypes and Callow milks every precious moment that he is granted on stage with sublime precision. Callow's singing nor his footwork may not be the best – but the matured genius of his stage presence more than compensates. Bonnie Langford equally has a role that is paper-thin in its perfectly structured two-dimensionality and yet again, every second of her performance is exquisitely on the money.

Baisden is handed the tough role of being almost completely non-comedic – yet she handles the critically important role of Hope flawlessly. Carly Mercedes Dyer as Erma remains an absolute scream, while Oakley’s Oakleigh is truly one of the most inspired comic turns around. Even if you’ve seen the show countless times before, this iteration will have you moist-eyed with its whip-sharp delivery. And then there’s the dancing - Ellis leads her company through a demanding range of numbers with none surpassing the title number that closes the first act and which seems, breathtakingly, to go on forever.

For a production built for the road the sets are ingeniously lavish as doors and decks slide away, revealing the ship’s cabin interiors. Derek McLane’s designs enhanced by Hugh Vanstone’s lighting plots are simply top-notch. In the pit Mark Aspinall makes de-lovely work of Porter’s score, his 16-piece band delivering a lavish sound.

This production stunned London in 2021 as the city was beginning to emerge from the pandemic and one year on, its return is equally welcomed. In a song and dance show that is drilled to perfection, this is musical theatre at its glorious, frivolous finest.


Runs until 3rd September
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Sunday, 10 July 2022

Gypsy - Review

Buxton Opera House, Buxton


*****


Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by Paul Kerryson



Joanna Riding


In a joint production between the Buxton International Festival and the Buxton Opera House and for a ridiculously short run of 8 performances only, Gypsy’s caravan has pulled up in the Peak District’s spa town of Buxton. Drawn from the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Laurents’ book is meticulously created, much as his West Side Story was an inspired interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Add in a young Stephen Sondheim penning the lyrics to Jule Styne’s magnificent score and the components were all there to create one of the 20th century’s finest musicals.

While Gypsy Rose may have been the stage name adopted by Louise, the younger daughter of Rose, this musical is all about the maniacally matriarchal Rose, with Sondheim and Laurents combining to create perhaps the most deliciously flawed woman in the canon. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, deserted by two husbands and with two young daughters in tow, Rose is determined to offer her girls – and older daughter June in particular – a career amidst the bright lights of showbiz. But this is 1920’s America, the Great Depression is biting and vaudeville is dying. The world is dog eat dog and Rose is eating dogfood so that her kids may at least enjoy cold leftovers. Is she a self-sacrificial stage-mum? Possibly. But halfway through the first act, as Louise on her birthday sings the solo number Little Lamb, revealing to the audience that as an evidently teenage girl she does not know her own age, we get a glimpse into the infernal cauldron of emotions that define her damaged mother.

Luxury casting sees Joanna Riding play Rose. There is little glamour to the role, rather the interpretation of a middle-age woman railing against the demons of desertion via song after song after song – and each one, in Riding’s interpretation, an absolute banger! From the energy of Some People, straight into the sublimely soft nuances of Small World, Riding grasps Rose’s reins, driving her character through life’s challenges and glimpsed opportunities. On stage for most of the show, Riding’s (like Rose’s) energy appears indefatigable with the actress masterfully controlling Rose’s descent into the facing of reality and recognising the impossibility of her own dream just as Louise emerges to discover her own.

Rose famously closes both acts of the show with massive solos. Riding’s take on Everything’s Coming Up Roses blithely sends the audience off for their interval gin and tonics. She ends the show however with the jaw-droppingly frantic Rose’s Turn. It is gripping to watch Riding perform and if Hamlet is famous for subjecting its leading performer to a draining swordfight in the endgame, so too did the creatives of this show make almost unreasonable demands of their leading lady when they wrote this final number and Riding is breath-taking in her portrayal of decline. 

Monique Young makes sensitive work of Louise's emergence from overlooked younger sibling to the glamour of burlesque and ultimately international stardom. There is a wry cruel wisdom to Louise’s signature song, Let Me Entertain You. The number is sung initially in the show by the young Baby June  as a novelty child-performer in a vaudeville routine.  (Credit here to Sienna May as Baby June and also to Lucy McLoughlin as Baby Louise.) By the end of the show however the lyrics are an acknowledgement of the sleazy allure of the striptease, deftly handled by Young. If there is one small criticism of the production it is that director Paul Kerryson could have made more of the young Louise’s unrequited crush on Tulsa (a young man in Rose’s performing troupe).

In another complex supporting role David Leonard is Herbie, the middle-aged, ex-agent turned candy salesman who holds a torch for Rose throughout, until he clearly sees that Rose can truly love no-one beyond herself. Leonard’s work is sensitive and well-voiced.

The second act’s brief comic respite comes from the three worldy-weary strippers that Rose and Louise encounter as burlesque beckons. Tiffany Graves (Tessa Tura), Aleisha Naomi Pease (Electra), and Rebecca Lisewski (Mazeppa) are each wonderful in their modest cameos in You Gotta Get a Gimmick. Hannah Everest puts in a fine turn as Dainty June, with Liam Dean’s footwork (alongside that of Young too, to be fair) in All I Need Is The Girl proving another treat from choreographer David Needham.

Ben Atkinson’s 13-piece orchestra make delicious work of Jule Styne’s compositions. From the opening bars of the Overture – itself one of the finest ever – their playing is lush and lavish. There is equally strong work from Phil R Daniels’ set design and Charles Cusick Smith’s costumes.

Buxton's Gypsy is one of the finest pieces of musical theatre to open in England this year. It is unmissable!


Runs until 24th July
Photo credit: Genevieve Girling

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Ken Ludwig In Conversation


Ken Ludwig

Crazy For You opens this month at Chichester Festival Theatre. The musical delivers a fine evening of song and dance and drawn from the composing genius of George and Ira Gershwin, one could be forgiven for thinking that the show is a classic hailing from Broadway’s Golden Age. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. While the songs are in part drawn from the Gershwin’s 1930 show Girl Crazy, it fell to Ken Ludwig (who co-conceived the musical with director Mike Ockrent) to create the book for Crazy for You some 60 years later. The show's Broadway opening in 1992 garnered 3 Tony Awards including Best Musical, with similar honours in the Oliviers a year later on its West End transfer.

Ludwig has been very busy at Chichester recently. His adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express has only recently closed at the Festival Theatre after achieving a slew of rave reviews from across the national press. He is back in Sussex again for Crazy For You and I caught up with him in a break from rehearsals to talk about these remarkable productions.


Charlie Stemp and Carly Anderson rehearsing Crazy For You at Chichester


Ludwig told me how Crazy For You was created. “Back in the early 1990s, a businessman called Roger Horchow called me out of the blue. He had invested in a couple of Broadway shows, but had always wanted to do Gershwin. He called me because I had a show on Broadway at the time called Lend Me A Tenor that was the only real comedy on Broadway at the time and he had really loved it. He told me that he had acquired the rights from the Gershwin Estate and would I write an adaptation of Girl Crazy? 

I told him that I couldn't! Girl Crazy has a terrible book. In fact it’s hardly a book at all, more a bunch of blackout sketches with some glorious songs in it: Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, But Not For Me. So it had an amazing score, but it was hardly a story at all.

Girl Crazy was loosely about an East Coast guy heading West. Well, I ended up keeping that bit of the story so that I could use a couple of the songs as book songs, like Biding My Time and Could You Use Me, but otherwise I threw it all out and started from scratch. I came up with a story, not entirely unlike Lend Me A Tenor, if you think about it, which is someone who in their heart wants to be in show business, but can't quite make the leap. In the case of Lend Me A Tenor, it’s somebody who is an assistant to a producer. In the case of Crazy For You, he comes from a banking family. His parents force him to be a banker, but he just wants to tap dance and that's Bobby in Crazy For You. So, I wrote the idea, came up with the story, and then Mike Ockrent joined in, we found Susan Stroman to choregraph and we built the musical.”

The company rehearsing Crazy For You at Chichester



I asked Ken to tell me more about Susan Stroman. “Well, Stroman is remarkable. She started out as a choreographer, and was rightly acclaimed for Crazy For You and went onto do other Broadway shows. And then, late in the day, she started directing. She and Mike Ockrent who directed Crazy For You got married and they were doing some shows together, and in fact were hired to do The Producers together, when Mike contracted leukaemia and tragically died so young. And then she took over The Producers and directed that on her own.”

And of course it is Stroman who will be making her much anticipated debut at Chichester this year, as she directs and choreographs this revival of Crazy For You!

Chichester hosted the UK premiere of Murder On The Orient Express earlier this year before a planned transfer to Bath. I asked Ken about his ingenious adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic.

“The Christie Estate came to me and said, "We'd like you to take any one of her novels and put it on stage.  I was very flattered and I said, "Of course I'd be honoured to do it." I chose Murder On The Orient Express without rereading it. I hadn't read it in years. I'd seen the great (1974) Albert Finney movie, but I knew the title was such an iconic title. And I thought, well, in itself it's so romantic, the title's romantic and it's exotic and ought to translate to the stage well.

Then I read the novel soup to nuts and realized this is going to be tricky. It's all virtually, all on the train. So to dramatise it, to make it fun to watch on stage and exciting, and a cliff hanger, I changed two things from the novel.

Firstly, I made the murder happen a great deal later in the piece than it is in the book. If you think in a way that's counterintuitive, as it's the murder that gets the story started, but it's really not. As a dramatist I wanted us to meet the characters and get invested in all those characters on the train, so that we cared about who did it, because until the very end w don't know who did it. Jonathan Church, who directed it so superbly, turned to me at one point and said, "Ken, the murder isn't happening till 45 minutes into the play, are we going to be okay?" And I said, "Well, just hold tight. I think we'll be all right." And it ends up being just that and it works.

The other major change I made is that in the book there are 12 suspects and someone even makes a remark about that and says, "Oh 12, like a British jury." I cut that down to eight suspects because there were just too many people to get to know in the compressed stage time.”

One of the standout features of the play was the set design, and I asked Ken for his thoughts on seeing a play that is, for the most part, set on a train stranded in the Alps, physically brought to the stage.

“When the play first ran in the States there was a beautiful set by Beowulf Boritt who in fact I've worked with several times since, and he's doing Crazy For You here at Chichester now. For the play here, a whole different concept emerged between the two geniuses that I had to work with, who were Jonathan Church and his designer Rob Jones. 

Rob had conceived a whole imaginative way to view the train with the locomotive at the back of the stage and pallets that came on and danced around the stage. And, as you saw, they formed the dining car and then formed the car with all the bedrooms. And so we had to imagine ourselves into the setting in a different way. 

It was all in our mind seeing the pieces of it come together and it was, I have to say, the most beautiful, dramatic set I think I'll ever have in my life. And it helped spur me on to write the new pieces, parts of it that I did, because it was so glorious. Rob’s design, from the early design-box stage, made me think about how that would affect Poirot and the big entrances for Mrs. Hubbard, who is very flamboyant American, and all the characters, little Greta Olson, who's afraid of her own shadow. And it inspired me to rethink the dramatic way to tell the story.

Henry Goodman as Hercule Poirot

And of course Henry Goodman (as Hercule Poirot) was a delight. I have known of Henry’s work for a long while and I find his attention to detail is remarkable. He thinks through the character in depth from the beginning of the play to the end of the play. So when we start working, even when we started on the first day and he was practising the first scene, he knows where he wants to end up emotionally, because he's thought about it so much. He's a real intellect. And his skillset is incredible. So he brings both this remarkable intelligence to every role he does and then is able to embody it, because he has such a great set of acting skills and such a good voice too.”

Crazy For You commences previews in the Chichester Festival Theatre on 11th July, where it runs until 4th September. For tickets click here.  

Sunday, 3 July 2022

King Lear - Review

Shakespeare's Globe


***


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Helena Kaut-Howson



Kathryn Hunter and Michelle Terry


Returning to the title role after 25 years (and back then in a production also directed by Helena Kaut-Howson), Kathryn Hunter leads in King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe. That she is a woman in a man’s role, proves to be of little impediment to her delivery, and there is an authenticity to her take on the aged, dementia-raddled monarch that works well. The flaw in Hunter’s performance turns out to be not her sex, but rather her ability to master Shakespeare’s verse. Some of Lear’s words are amongst the most profound in the canon yet especially in the evening’s first half, Hunter races through her speeches offering two-dimensional deliveries too often rather than thoughtful interpretations of the prose. There is an Alf Garnett / Mel Brooks-like mania to her Lear that sees her play the role unnecessarily, inappropriately (and quite possibly, unintentionally) for laughs. And her howls at the death of Cordelia, surely one of the most gut-wrenching moments ever penned, lack pathos.  

Michelle Terry, the venue’s artistic director lands herself the curious casting combination of Cordelia and the Fool. To her credit, she makes a decent job of both, even if Kaut-Howson has decided the Fool’s departure from the story should be elevated to a moment of melodramatic death. Other than Lear’s penultimate lament that his “poor fool is hanged”, or reasons of economy, there is little to justify the fusion of these two roles into the same performer.

Some of the acting is fine and gripping. Ryan Donaldson as Edmund, Marianne Oldham’s Reagan and especially Diego Matamoros as Gloucester turn in fine performances. Matamoros in particular is deeply moving after his blinding. Elsewhere however there is under-performance and, too often, tedium. At 200 minutes including interval, weak performances make the narrative drag, and that's even without the addition of a great stage of fools as the entire cast rise from the dead to give an unnecessary post-finale display of country dancing.

Kaut-Howson was sadly caught up in a car accident that kept her away from the play’s final two weeks of rehearsals. Whether this absence contributed to the production’s lack of lustre one may never know, but this is not one of London's great King Lears.


Runs until 24th July
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Friday, 1 July 2022

Beauty And The Beast - The Musical - Review

London Palladium, London


*****


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Directed and choreographed by Matt West




Courtney Stapleton and Shaq Taylor


From Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 fairy tale La Belle et la BĂȘte, through countless stage and screen adaptations, the story of Beauty And The Beast is a classic parable of good and love conquering evil. Now, following an extensive tour of the UK, director and choreographer Matt West brings his Disney entourage into the West End where the show has opened at the London Palladium.

Disney’s magic has always lain within its imagery as much as the narratives and with Stanley A. Meyer's scenic design and Ann Hould-Ward’s costume work, West is well supported. Not only were this creative trio involved with the show’s original Broadway iteration some 28 years ago, but they have ensured that audiences are treated to treasured moments of old-style along with brand new elements both in design and delivery that keep this production feeling as new, fresh and exciting as ever. It is rare that a design has such an overwhelming impact across a production and while at times the village scenes felt a little bare amidst the vastness of the Palladium’s proscenium, Meyer’s combination of projection, video, lighting and three moving rustic scrolls into multiple configurations instantly transported the tale from village to woodland and of course the enchanted castle where so much of the story takes place.

With story and songs alike engrained in the minds of many, it’s no surprise that audiences sit with baited breath anticipating those iconic moments of speech and song. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman truly wrote some of their finest numbers for this piece of musical magic, with Tim Rice also contributing as Disney’s animated hit made the transition on to Broadway. Hits such as Be Our Guest and Human Again are both sensationally led by Gavin Lee’s Lumiere whom after a stint on Broadway returns to the West End and who holds the audience in the palm of his hand with nuance, charm and charisma. 

The energy and comedic timing of Louis Stockil as Le Fou is fun, as is the delightful giggling gossiping Madame played by Samantha Bingley who has sensational chemistry onstage throughout with the equally talented Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts. While the title number doesn’t allow for powerhouse vocals from Bailey, she still delivers with the required vocal finesse with of course the timeless Angela Lansbury (who else?) voicing the show's Prologue.

West offers a fresh take on the relationship between Courtney Stapleton’s Belle and Beast played by Shaq Taylor. Stapleton is perfect and a far more strong willed heroine / princess than has been seen before with flawless vocals throughout, in particular during ‘A Change in Me’ in Act 2. Taylor equally rises to the occasion. The traditional heavy footed, thudding, growling Beast is out. Instead, Taylor brings a far more genuine and honest approach, ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ proving a vocal masterclass, instantly generating empathy for not only one but two trapped prisoners: one in a castle, the other in his own body.

It may have been only nigh-on 30 years ago but one cannot help but feel that this classic French yarn isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard to imagine the world of both stage and screen without this iconic story, truly a tale as old as time. Never has there been a more appropriate lyric for this beast of a production that is such a beauty to behold.


Runs until 17th September
Reviewed by Joe Sharpe
Photo credit: Johan Persson