Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Beauty & The Beast - The Opera House, Manchester

Beauty and the Beast
Music: Alan Menkin
Lyrics: Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book: Linda Woolverton
Director/Choreographer: Alison Pollard
Reviewer: John Roberts

One cannot deny the fact that love it or hate it, the house of mouse has created some of the best loved films, and Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of their best. This theatrical version of the film is the sixth longest running show in Broadway history, has grossed more than $1.5billion in box office sales and been seen by more than 5 million people worldwide, not bad for a love story between a sickly sweet girl and a hideous beast!

This current tour is being produced by UK productions and although it is evident that they don’t have the spending power of the original Disney production, it still manages to pack plenty of magical moments guaranteeing the young and old in the audience leave humming the tunes with a huge smile of their faces.

Everyone by now knows the story of The Prince who, turning away the cries of help from an enchantress is turned into a hideous beast, where he will stay until he can find out the real meaning of true love. Belle happens to find herself in the Beasts castle after trying to save her inventor father who, found trespassing on the Beasts land swaps places with her father...over time both Belle and the Beast learn to cope with each other’s differences and realise that true love can conquer everything...even horns and vast amounts of facial hair.

The strength of this production lies in the cast’s enthusiasm and boundless energy that shines throughout. Helped by Alison Pollards direction and choreography the production stays true to the original material but sprinkles lots of comedic elements which keep the darker sides of the story this side of child friendly, although perhaps one could argue that at times this borders on elements of pantomime.

Ashley Oliver looks every bit the fairytale princess as she swoops around the stage, eyes wide open and the saccharine sweet smile plastered across her face, but she is most defiantly not the strongest or most pleasing singer to listen too, her high pitched voice bordering at times at the grating rather than the great! Shaun Dalton as the Beast is owns the stage and has a real presence about him, his ability to play the strong over powering Beast coupled with the more silly and humorous elements of The Beasts learning is well balanced and his rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ at the end of Act One is a real show stopper.

Phil Barley (Lumiere) and Ashley Knight (Cogsworth) have ample chemistry as the two leading mantelpiece adornments, from Barley’s amorous French candlestick with full on flames to Knight’s more stiff upper-lipped carriage clock, but it is the duo of Ben Harlow as Gaston and Eddie Dredge as sidekick Lefou that steal the show with excellent comic timing and animated facial expressions throughout.

Charles Camm’s set looks like it came straight from a picture book, and although at times it looked a little on the small side it packs plenty of charm, especially when combined with the stunning visual projections by John Port along with lighting by David Howe really helps give the show a strong and atmospheric edge that you rarely see in touring productions.

Overall this is a pleasing production although it doesn’t have the WOW factor that the previous Disney Tour had, it is full of your faviourite songs including 'Be Our Guest' and the title track as well as some new numbers, that it will still feel you have had your monies worth and leave you with a warm glow which is just perfect for these long winter nights!
Photos: Robert Workman
Runs until Sat 14th Nov
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