Beauty and the Beast

by | Jun 30, 2024

Review by Suzanne Tate

The opening night of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Musical in Melbourne was a resounding success! On top of the standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance, the audience also paused proceedings on several occasions for extended applause, bringing several people spontaneously to their feet. The entire production is lush and elaborate, from costuming and set through to choreography. Visually stunning, the show draws the audience convincingly into a fairytale world, filled with awe-inspiring scenery, rich colours and textures, and dramatic storytelling.

 

The original tale of Beauty and the Beast was written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and abridged and republished by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. Disney produced their animated film version in 1991, which became the first animated movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The live theatre version was first performed in 1994 and has been a favourite around the world ever since. It ran on Broadway for 13 years and has been performed on every continent except Antarctica. This success was followed by the live-action film musical launch in 2017. The rich history of this ‘Tale as Old as Time’ means that many audience members have loving memories of earlier versions that this show must fulfil. Looking around the theatre during the performance it was clear that for most of the audience, expectations were exceeded.

 

Most of this cast have performed together for quite some time and together presented a confident engaging show. The individual cast performances were polished and vocally strong. Belle was portrayed by Shubshri Kandiah. The character of Belle stands out as the most ‘normal’, realistic, three-dimensional character in the entire show, and Kandiah delivered that effectively. Belle is strong and independent from the beginning, willing to make sacrifices for love and self-aware enough to realise how her perceptions are changing. Kandiah plays the role convincingly, sharing her emotional journey clearly with the audience. The other title role, that of the Beast, is played by Brendan Xavier. When we first meet the Beast, he is the scary monster we expect to see, but as the character develops, Xavier takes him in some unexpected directions. His portrayal is quite childlike, vacillating between an undisciplined boy with anger-management issues and wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm as he responds to Belle’s positive influence. It is only in the final scenes of each Act that the Beast appears as a mature character, capable of feeling the true love required to end the curse.

 

 

While the lead characters were played ably, it was the supporting cast that most effectively held my interest and kept me entertained. In particular, Gareth Jacob’s Cogsworth, Alana Tranter’s Madame and Jayde Westaby’s Mrs Potts were my favourite portrayals along with Rohan Brown’s Lumiere who was also highly entertaining. Gaston, played by Rubin Matters on opening night, provided the most obvious comedic effect to lighten the story, but the character lacked the impact I hoped for in a villain of sorts.

 

 

The costumes, designed by Ann Hould-Ward, in Beauty and the Beast are central to our understanding of the characters, especially those who are transformed by the spell. Most were very informative and easy to recognise, but I was not a fan of Mrs Potts costume. Belle’s costume, a simple blue pinafore and hooded cloak for most of the show, emphasised the notion that she was the only real, down-to-earth character living in this world. Of course, the characters in the castle all had elaborate costumes to reflect their enchanted transformation into household items, but the costumes of the townspeople also reflected their origins in a fairy tale world. Bright colours, varied textures and unusual styles presented a lot of visual interest in the group scenes. The costumes also reignite memories of the original animated movie, such as Belle’s stunning yellow ballgown and the Prince’s blue coat.

 

The beautifully painted vistas of the set and projected scenes also added to the lush richness of the visual component of the show. This was further enhanced by the creative use of Natasha Katz’s lighting design and projections created by Darrel Maloney, to add drama to scenes such as the various wolf attacks in the woods and Gaston’s fall from the castle. The story was also enhanced by illusions designed by Jim Steinmeyer- I still can’t work out where Chip’s body was hiding in several scenes!

 

 

If you enjoy old-school, musical choreography in the style of the Ziegfield Follies and Busby Berkely, you will love the ‘Be our Guest’ number near the end of Act 1. An elaborate number, complete with an overhead projected view of the Berkely-style kaleidoscope choreography and many, many white ostrich feathers. While this number was entertaining and very well choreographed (by Director/Choreographer Matt West) and performed, it did feel a bit long, particularly as it is not designed to move the plot along, seemingly included primarily for visual impact. The dramatic moving Rococo-inspired sets, designed by Stanley Meyer enhanced the drama, such as the elaborate balustrades rotating and flying into place and the revolve, which contributed to the action and created the illusion that the cast was travelling great distances. The sets were extensive and varied, covering a wide range of locations, from outside Belle’s house, the village, inside the tavern, the woods, outside the castle, and multiple scenes within the castle, from the threatening dungeon to the beautiful parapets under the full moon.

 

This show has been running for a significant time, so the cast are comfortable working together, and give a polished, note-perfect performance, never putting a foot wrong. To, me, it’s not the type of show where one character steals the show, or one song stays in your head. Its strength is in how well everything fits together to tell the story of hope, transformation, and the power of love. It is that story, and the beautiful music written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, that is the star of the show, and the reason why audiences continue to fill theatres all over the world, thirty years on, and why a visit to Her Majesty’s Theatre this year will remain in your memory for years to come.

Beauty and the Beast is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District.

For more information: https://beautyandthebeastmusical.com.au/

Related Posts

Macbeth (An Undoing)

Macbeth (An Undoing)

By Nick Pilgrim More than any other live space in Melbourne, The Malthouse is known for showcasing bold, experimental, and convention-smashing material. Located in Southbank’s entertainment district, powerful examples from the venue’s eclectic back catalogue include:...

Maria Bamford – 2024 Australian Tour

Maria Bamford – 2024 Australian Tour

By Nick Pilgrim Born in the United States of America, Maria Bamford is a beloved performer, best-selling author, and voiceover artist. With a career spanning thirty years, she is known for a diverse body of work including television roles on Arrested Development,...

Elegies

Elegies

By Darby Turnbull Confession, whenever I need a good heavy cry I listen to William Finn, proper full body shakes, hot tears, nose full of snot crying. Most of his shows have at least 2 or 3 that do it for me Falsettos (Unlikely lovers, What would I do? Holding to the...