DISNEY took a great animated movie and turned it into a good stage musical. The result, Beauty and the Beast, has been playing to appreciative audiences at the Hayward Theatre and I was lucky to find a last-minute seat at Saturday night’s sell-out performance, writes Sally McQueen.
Odds are that most of the adults among had seen the 1991 feature film — the first animated movie ever to be nominated for a best-picture Oscar — and, certainly, everyone knew how it was going to turn out in the end.
It’s the story of beautiful, book-loving Belle (Sally Cheng) who doesn’t quite fit into her small village and has big dreams. And an arrogant prince who was turned into the Beast (James Doxey) — whose castle and servants were enchanted — until he learned to love and be loved in return.
The music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman breathed new life into an old story. Even after all these years — and it’s been almost 18 years since it opened on Broadway — there’s magic in ‘Be Our Guest’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’. (The latter won an Oscar as best song; the film also won for best score.)
Not all the music added for the stage production, which Menken wrote with Tim Rice, is up to that standard, but a couple of songs — ‘Human Again’ and ‘Is This Home?’ — are very good.
King’s Company’s production was awash with colour and terrific costumes and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud funny moments. Congratulations to the principal characters whose diction was so clear that I was able to hear every word.
The arrogant Gaston (a very engaging performance by Will Oliver) and his sidekick, Le Fou (Lewis Carrier) were first act favourites and Gaston’s abrupt transition from comic foil to evil villain intent on killing the Beast was well handled .
But there’s still something incredibly charming and funny about the Beast awkwardly courting Belle.
“How will I know when the moment’s right?” he asks.
“You’ll feel slightly nauseous,” replies Cogsworth (Charlie Gillett), his servant-turned-clock.
I guess Lumière (Tony Lesmeister) was a servant-turned-candelabra but he could have been a chandelier for the way he lit up the stage with an engaging performance, delivered in a delightful French accent.
And I should mention the faultless delivery of Narrator (Christiane Lewien). This Year 12 student from Germany is spending a year at King’s. My programme notes say she came to “do new things, learn English…”. This was her first appearance in a musical so she can go home satisfied that this week she achieved both ambitions with aplomb.
My A* award goes to Sally Cheng. She has an innate ability to engage with an audience – in addition to a beautiful voice. I was charmed right from the start by her scene with her father Maurice (Lee Wei Wong) and their delivery of ‘No Matter What’.
Among the principal characters were four students who are members of Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir and, as you’d expect, they were all in terrific voice: Mrs Potts (Emma Jones), Wardrobe (Georgia Schneider), Babette (Oona Gradwell) and Chip (Anna-Rose Sliwinski). Emma also managed to cope with her magnificent teapot costume which might have been the downfall of a less assured performer.
Some of the other members of the Girls’ Choir were among a Chorus of 37 whose delivered Lisa Bushell’s inventive choreography with such confidence and verve. Her well-disciplined opener to my favourite, ‘Be Our Guest’, were by far the best production numbers of any recent King’s Company musical. Congratulations!
Lisa was also assistant to veteran director, Adella Charlton and Peter B North was the show’s musical director. The top class orchestra were seated on an on-stage platform, but only shadowy figures behind a gauzy backdrop which also served as a screen for the prologue which had been filmed in the cathedral.
At the end of a thoroughly entertaining evening I left the theatre with a smile on my face and humming a tune – even if I can’t quite remember which one!
Belle (Sally Cheng) with her father Maurice (Lee Wei Wong).
Gaston (Will Oliver) who made the change from comic foil to arch villain.
The Beast (James Doxey).
Belle (Sally Cheng) and members of the Chorus.