As silence falls over Manchester’s Palace Theater, Angela Lansbury’s warm and familiar tones introduce audiences to the story of Beauty and the Beast. Fans of the 1991 hit animated film will instantly recognize her voice as the original Mrs Potts and she will envelop those of us who grew up with the film in a blanket of sweet nostalgia.
The “tale as old as time” is here in Manchester for an epic 10 week run, and from the amount of little children dressed in Belle’s famous yellow dress whizzing through the hallways of the theater, it’s clearly a film that keeps on going. enchant. The story is that of the book-loving young Belle who dreams of “more than this provincial life”, before her world changes forever with the fateful discovery that her father Maurice has been trapped by a “Beast” inside. of a magical abode.
He does not know that the whole house is under a spell, cast by the landlord’s youthful arrogance towards an old beggar. Unaware of his magical powers, she transformed him into the Beast until he truly learns to see the beauty within himself.
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While this new production is a faithful and magical retelling of that memorable Disney movie, it also boasts important modern notes for the classic fairy tale. For one thing, our heroine Belle here is even more exuberant than the original, brilliantly brought to life on stage by Courtney Stapleton who exudes star quality and grabs attention with every word and perfect vocal note.
He cheerfully rejects the advances of the local god of love Gaston, played with muscle effect by Tom Senior – who immediately wins the hearts of the audience thanks to his jaw-dropping bicep flexing input. His hilarious ode to himself, Gaston, is among the music’s highlights, demonstrating the skills of the entire ensemble.
Belle is obviously more than a match for the Beast when she accepts the fateful trade to save her father’s life. Nobly agreeing to remain in the abode of the Beast “forever”.
The Beast receives a powerful life on stage from Shaq Taylor, who follows his scenes like a caged animal, before a truly mesmerizing and spectacular reveal in the show’s finale. Her moving voice of hers impresses in her solo performance of If I Can’t Love Her, along with film favorites such as duet with Belle in Something There.
While the protagonists are the real stars of this musical, its success is in the sheer brilliance of the entire ensemble. X Factor winner Sam Bailey is a fabulous Mrs. Potts in a magical teapot costume, surpassed only by the incredible scenography that brings to life her gorgeous baby Chip, played by Rojae Simpson who almost steals the show as the little teacup.
Bailey sings one of the highlights of the show – the title track of Beauty and the Beast – as Belle takes the stage in the now iconic yellow dress to greet Beast, dressed up, for their most romantic dance. It’s one of many truly unforgettable moments in this triumph of a musical and showcases Ann Hould-Ward’s breathtaking costume.
But the masterpiece for me comes to the finale of Act One, when the castle comes to life for Be Our Guest, led by the sheer power of Gavin Lee as Lumiere. In this role she works with her small candlestick arms and legs, and her dazzling tap-star spinning through the big show tune brings back the golden days of Hollywood in simply sensational style.
As if those dancing skills weren’t talented enough, she has a brilliant double comedy act underway with Nigel Richards as Cogsworth, who manages to embody the physicality of a carriage clock with deft aplomb.
Disney Theatrical Productions took the opportunity to show its commitment to diversity in casting this musical, and it’s all the richer for it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of famous artists, talented musicians, brilliant set design and stunning design in one performance – they’re the easiest five stars I’ve ever given.
As a family show, the producers claim Beauty and the Beast is suitable for all children aged 6 and up. Although, being a mom myself, I’d give a little warning that young people who get scared easily might find some woodland scenes with wolves a little scary.
If you love your musical theater then this is a must see. I enjoyed it so much I’m already booking to go back.
Beauty and the Beast is at the Manchester Palace Theater until June 4th.
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