Belle is a beautiful girl who doesn’t quite fit in due to her love of books and ability to dream of life beyond the boundaries of her small French village. Taking her father’s place as prisoner to a beast in a castle, she is surprised to find that it is enchanted, with the inhabitants doomed to transform into various household objects. The only way this spell can be reversed is for the beast to find the humanity within himself, to learn to love and to be loved in return.
Beauty and the Beast is still one of the most beloved of the Disney classics. It was released in the early nineties, was incredibly popular, won numerous awards and now holds a special place in the hearts of many a twenty-something who grew up re-watching a VHS copy until they could quote the movie word for word. Yours truly falls into this category, as do, it is safe to assume, many members of the cast of Northern Light’s production.
It is therefore a very fine line that is walked, in bringing this show to the stage – there is the need to capture the magic of the original film, while also injecting something new and fresh into it so that it is not just a direct copy. While there are subtle differences in the script, and several new songs, the majority of this task relies on the actors’ characterisations, and the stylising of the production. Under the direction of Fran Edwards, this is achieved in the majority of cases.
As the title characters, Kate Dempsey and Andrew Crispe are charming. Dempsey gives Belle a nice blend of spirit and sweetness, and does an admirable job with the musical numbers. Crispe gives a powerful performance, both physically and vocally, and also brings great emotion and vulnerability to the role.
The household objects are delightfully brought to life by Omkar Nagesh (Lumiere), James Reed (Cogsworth), Lisa Simonetti (Mrs Potts), Haydee Watkin (Babette) and Karen Muller (Madam de la Grande Bouche). Nagesh and Reed are particularly engaging – full of energy and humour, carrying off the jolly quarrelling banter between the two characters with excellent comic timing – and Watkin makes an amusingly flouncy and petulant feather duster.
The star performance of the show, however, comes from Jason Ferguson, as narcissistic baddie Gaston. He creates a man who is more than just self-obsessed, rather bordering on truly evil – but also amusingly so. His vocal style is perfect for the songs he is allotted and he injects great spark into his characterisation. As his offsider Lafou, Jethro Pidd’s fool is a wonderfully silly counterbalance.
The chorus give good support in the larger cast numbers, with Be Our Guest a particular highlight. After a few initial issues, the orchestra, under the musical direction of Peter Johns, do well to bring the Academy Award winning score to life.
This is a family friendly show and a great opportunity for the next generation of theatre lovers to get inducted. However, parents may want to think hard beforehand about whether their children will be old enough to handle the darker parts of the story (wolves, the beast, a fight to the death) and have the attention span to sustain them through two 75 minute halves. If so, they are sure to love it.
Overall this is a pleasing, quality production of a musical that will be very dear to many. It was a fun way to spend three hours, revisiting a childhood love.
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