Beauty and the Beast the Musical revives Disney’s 1991 animation in a theatrical masterpiece that captures a tale as old as time, through the panorama of a multi-sensory spectacle in this two-and-a-half hour production.
Before you see anything, it’s what you hear that captivates your attention. The orchestration by Danny Troob and sound design of John Shivers completely shifts the atmosphere in each scene, accentuating that gravitas of emotional range of the characters and their circumstances. The presence and influence of the music and orchestration is truly felt in the few moments of its absence. In an artform where too much music can easily become overkill, the sound design shifts seamlessly between diegetic and non-diegetic to support transitions between dialogue and musical scores.
Shubshri Kandiah, who plays Belle (and who also played princesses in Disney’s Aladdin, Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Belvoir St Theatre’s Into The Woods), has become Australia’s go-to princess, and deservedly so. Kandiah’s performance carries the youthfulness and animation of a Disney cartoon while exuding the elegance of a woman born to be royalty. While Belle’s disdain for Gaston (Jackson Head) falters in the pair’s duet, ‘Me’, this oversight is beyond compensated for in her timbre and melody throughout the rest of the performance.
Head plays the repugnant role of Gaston delightfully. His performance elicits a tug-of-war of admiration for his execution but also an unease at the sleaziness of his character. As the Beast, the charming Brendan Xavier is not given the same opportunity to shine. However, Xavier is not completely to blame. His solo performance occurs just after the marvellous and literally jaw-dropping musical numbers of ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ – numbers that both received such long standing ovations on Opening Night that the cast had to act over the applause to keep the performance moving. The almost back-to-back ensemble performance would make any sombre solo seem lacking, making the Beast’s standalone moment a questionable choice to end the first act on.
The supporting cast, in particular Lumiere (Rohan Browne), Cogsworth (Gareth Jacobs) and Mrs Potts (Jayde Westaby), are the spectacle of the night. It is no easy feat to play an object, but each actor casually becomes their respective household item while providing great comedic relief – enhanced greatly by Ann Hould-Ward’s meticulously curated costumes. Throughout the performance, the costumes not only provide contextual clues but also tell a story of each character’s own personality and development. In a story where Belle’s dialogue is still limited and conveys a naivety that undermines her intellect, Hould-Ward’s costuming impeccably fills the gap in expressing Belle’s personal growth throughout the story.
A special mention must be made to the ensemble, who flawlessly perform Matt West’s choreography. Their performances are the supporting clutch that moves this musical from great to awe-inspiring spectacle. Their synchronisation, energy and grit leave you wanting more. As a reviewer, it was impossible to take down my usual notes while they were on stage, for fear I would miss a single moment of their performance.
The ingenious use of light, illusion and projection (by Natasha Katz, Jim Steinmeyer and Darrel Maloney) is another highlight. The intersection between the real and the imaginary blurs quickly as the audience’s perception of reality is challenged. The juxtaposition between lighting and shadows in moments of conflict heightens the tension, providing contrast to the generally rose-tinted tone of the performance.
Disney's musical take on Beauty and the Beast is a mesmerising visual spectacle. While it may take a scene or two to truly lift off, once it does, you'll find yourself fully immersed in the enchanting world of ‘happily ever after’. With its captivating performances, stunning visuals, and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages, this production will leave you spellbound and fulfilled.