Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – The Musical
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 9th March 2022
Disney’s best musical is back, touring stages across the country in this revamped production that pulls out all the stops to impress. New sets and costumes dazzle and delight while remaining faithful to the original animated film, and all in service of the story. For example, the wolf attacks are represented here by some rather scary animations, rather than the dancers in furry headpieces and leg warmers of yesteryear! This is a production that uses bang up-to-date theatrical technology to deliver the goods, and boy, does it deliver!
Leading the cast in this performance is Grace Swaby-Moore as bookish, beautiful Belle, whose voice soars with clarity and purity befitting her character. She is more than matched by Shaq Taylor as the Beast, who manages to be intimidating, funny, and sympathetic all at once. He too has a rich singing voice, and his solo to close the first act is stirring stuff. It’s genuinely heart-warming to watch these two fall in love. I might be a little in love with Shaq Taylor, I freely admit.
A superb supporting cast keep the entertainment levels consistently at ten. Tom Senior’s vain and posturing Gaston is a hoot, forming a hilarious double-act with diminutive sidekick Le Fou, played by Louis Stockil, who is like a living cartoon character with energetic physical comedy and facial expressions that are purely delightful.
Gavin Lee’s louche Lumiere with his deadpan French accent is perfect — no one can hold a candle to him! — while Nigel Richards’s tightly wound Cogsworth is as charming as he is overwrought. Samantha Bagley’s Madame, half-woman, half-armoire, is a marvellously funny piece of character work. Sam Bailey’s gorblimey Mrs Potts the teapot, is sweet; her rendition of the title song while the title characters dance is a goosebumps moment I will never forget.
There are massive production numbers: Be Our Guest is a Busby Berkeley fever dream that brings the house down. Gaston is exhilarating. And the solo numbers are to die for. And you never feel as though the songs are getting in the way of the story. In fact, everything you see and hear is in service of the storytelling, which is what Disney does best. It’s fantastic to have a sizeable live orchestra playing the melodious, atmospheric score, under the baton of MD Jonathan Gill. It’s not every production that can afford such extravagance.
You can be as cynical as you like about the Disney money-making machine throwing money at the stage to make more money, but it’s the material that makes the show a classic. Chiefly the score by Alan Menken and the lyrics by the late Howard Ashman. This pair also created Little Shop Of Horrors, and brought their musical theatre sensibilities to the animated film. Therefore it’s a good fit for a stage adaptation, rather than being a story with some songs bunged in. There is a message about not judging by appearances but this is never forced or overemphasised.
The fairy tale magic is in full-force tonight, and it still gets me right in the feels no matter how many times I see it and it’s a real treat to fall under its upgraded spell. This funny, beautiful, exciting, romantic, spectacular and uplifting production is just what we need. Like Belle’s beloved books, the show takes us away from our present woes. I’m afraid it’s a case where five stars don’t seem like nearly enough.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆