Words: Simon Button; pictures: Johan Persson/Disney
Summer at the London Palladium has been so synonymous with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in recent years that it’s jarring not to see a loin-clothed Jac Yarrow on that hallowed stage this time around.
But Joseph has gone, gone, gone on tour, making way for another contender for show of the summer. And Beauty and the Beast, retooled from the production that originally wowed the West End in 1997, ticks (nearly) all the boxes for a family night out.
Courtney Stapleton as Belle and Shaq Taylor as Beast
A heartwarming Disneyfied story in which good triumphs over evil? Tick. Familiar tunes everyone can hum along to? Tick. A hero and heroine to root for? Tick. Comedy supporting characters with all the best lines? Tick? Lavish spectacle? Erm, sort of.
Reworked by original choreographer Matt West, this new production skimps on the sets that made the original so magical – so short staircases are extended by projections that don’t mesh well, unless you’re in the cheap seats at the back, and a supposedly scary forest is just a flat backdrop with some moody lighting.
Gavin Lee as Lumiere and Courtney Stapleton as Belle lead the company
When Belle, the village girl held captive by a Beast who is himself under a curse, gasps that she’s never seen so many books than in the castle’s library there’s a mere handful of real tomes and racks of flat-as-a-pancake projected ones.
This smoke-and-mirrors approach to a show that once stunned with its visuals is disappointing, though I doubt kids who have only seen the movie versions will be complaining. They’re also bound to love Courtney Stapleton’s Belle. A little pitchy during the first act on press night (nerves maybe?) she stopped the show with a stunning ‘A Change in Me’ in act two, and she makes for a spirited heroine.
Shaq Taylor as the Beast
Shaq Taylor comes into his own in the second as well, so sweet and funny in his Beast’s romantic befuddlement and extremely hot when he transforms at the end. (He’s actually kind of hot before too.)
But it’s the supporting players who steal the show. Gavin Lee is a flirty Lumiere, Nigel Richards camps it up like a young Christopher Biggins as Cogsworth, and Sam Bailey is perfectly in Cockney character as Mrs. Potts. When she sings the title track it’s a lovely, lilting contrast to the fantastically OTT Busby Berkeley bombast of ‘Be Our Guest’.
Tom Senior as Gaston and Courtney Stapleton as Belle
Equally OTT is the tavern-set ‘Gaston’ with Tom Senior and the ensemble clanking tankards in perfect precision. And mon dieu, what muscles the man has! Never mind the cheap seats, you could probably see his bulging biceps from the box office.
Beauty and the Beast is at the London Palladium until September 17. For more information visit beautyandthebeastmusical.co.uk and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.
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