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 Bête, 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