Beauty and The Beast The Musical (Disney Theatrical Group) – theatre review

The Disney stage musical Beauty and the Beast The Musical (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton) is a classic; the original Broadway production, adapted from Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated feature musical film of the same name, ran for over 13 years on Broadway, and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. 30 years after its last Australian tour (which didn’t include Brisbane) the much-anticipated re-imagined production of the blockbuster musical is set to make up for lost time, catapulting the charming ‘tale as old as time’ comfortably into a 2024 telling through enthralling production values and considered characterisation.

By its very nature, the musical is slow to start with lots of narrative threads to be woven together in its recount of the beloved fairytale story of beautiful Belle (Shubshri Kandiah) a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast (Brendan Xavier), who is really a prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress, in particular how the Beast must learn to love and be loved to end the curse that magically transformed him and his servants. Indeed, it is hallway into Act One before the first big number, ‘Gaston’. Once its spectacle arrives, however, it makes everything worthwhile. Then there is the energetic colour and movement of ‘Be Our Guest’, which, is an energetic tap dance and Can-can kaleidoscope (#literally) of Busby Berkeley style geometric extravagance and dazzle dazzle in-unison lighting (lighting design by Natasha Katz). This impressive realisation of director Matt West’s choreography is literally a showstopping moment, well-deserving of its mid-show standing ovation, akin to Aladdin’s ‘Friend Like Me’.

Experience of the musical is an epic feast for the senses. Production values are top-notch, especially in scenic technology and design, which is above and beyond those of standard musical fare, as impeccably timed special effects and laser projections service swift scene transitions and costume changes, and lightning carries out into the stalls as Belle escapes into the stormy woods from her imprisonment in the Beast’s castle. Costumes (costume design by Ann Hould-Ward) contribute to the spectacle through, for example, Belle’s gorgeous golden gown and Xavier sparkles in the Beast’s embroidered royal-blue-suited transformation into a gentleman for dinner and a personal ball with Belle.

Stanley A. Meyer’s scenic design sees some sparsely staged scenes serve as juxtaposition to later opulent castle moments, with detailed backdrops adding depth to the Beast’s hermitage. And John Shiever’s dynamic sound design works with Darrel Maloney’s projection/video design to darken Belle’s eccentric inventor father Maurice’s (Rodney Dobson) journey into the wolf-filled woods on way to an invention fair, which leads to his imprisonment by the Beast for trespassing. Quick set transitions also keep things moving, such as from the introduction of ‘Gaston’ into its eventual rollicking all-in tavern, tin-cup clinking, precisely-choreographed ensemble number.

Attention to detail is evident throughout the production. From its opening ensemble number ‘Belle’, during which Belle expresses her wish to live in a world like her books, while on way to get another from the local bookseller, we notice not only the protagonist’s lack of traditional apron within her costume, but are spoiled for choice as to where to look as a washerwoman, baker, shopkeeper and alike townspeople peddle their assorted wares. And, as the show progresses, thanks to Jim Steinmeyer’s illusion design, there are many magical reveals and ‘how are they doing that’ moments, around, for example, the appearance of adorable teacup Chip and the Beast’s Act Two transformation.

There is a meticulous approach evident within performances too, such as in Hayley Martin’s always-wiggles as French maid turned into a feather duster, Babette. Rohan Browne as maître d’, now camp candelabra Lumiere and Gareth Jacobs as pompous head of the household, but now clock, Cogsworth, meanwhile, provide much pantomimic comic relief, akin to The Lion King’s duo of Timon and Pumbaa. And thanks to the chemistry between the leads, the audience is invested in the love story between Belle and the Beast from its outset.

Queensland Conservatorium of Music graduate Kandiah is very much a Disney princess, of strong and beautiful voice, but also self-assured, determined and compassionate in her eventual quest not just to help the Beast, but have him want to help himself, meaning that we warm to her immediately. Xavier’s petulance more than menace makes it easy for the audience the appreciate the vulnerability beneath his character’s veneer and his vocal prowess is especially evident in his impressive note-hold in ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ realisation that he will be a monster forever if he cannot learn to love Belle. And Brisbane’s Jackson Head is an obvious but worthy crowd favourite as the comically conceited, chauvinistic and arrogant antagonist Gaston, in marriage pursuit of Belle, as the most beautiful girl in the village.

Under Musical Director and conductor Luke Hunter’s helm, the original score soars along the new dance arrangements and choreography. Not only this, but the score is executed to perfection to enable the story’s different moods: reaching a crescendo in Belle’s song of wanting her own adventure like those in the books she reads (notably with glasses on), darkening those scenes in the woods, and adding poignancy to ‘Human Again’, in which, with lovely harmonies, the Beast’s servants express their hope to one day return to their usual selves.

With visual gags aplenty for younger audience members sitting alongside adult-tailored dialogue observations about the nature of relationships, this Beauty and the Beast provides something for everyone in its audience, beyond just its feel-good messaging around true beauty lying within. The sumptuous production values ensure that this comes along with non-stop entertainment through elevation of the magic of theatre, making it well worth a visit for both young and young-at-heart audience members alike.

Beauty and The Beast The Musical is at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in Brisbane until 21 April 2024

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

Other reviews you might enjoy: