Shubshri Kandiah and Brendan Xavier. Photos – Daniel Boud

Beauty and the Beast is a timeless, story. Its wholesome premise that love and understanding can transform ugliness into beauty has universal appeal.

Refreshingly, unlike Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the heroine, Belle charmingly sung and acted by Shubshri Kandiah, isn’t wanting to be whisked into contented coupledom. Instead, she’s an intelligent, fearless, book-toting bluestocking; bespectacled and yearning for travel and adventure. She rejects the marriage proposal from Gaston, played by Jackson Head.

Channelling Jim Carrey, yet firmly putting his own stamp on the role, Head is brilliant as Gaston, the villain everyone loves to hate. His chest beating arrogance is staggering, his smug vision of a subservient wife makes the flesh crawl and his succulent variety of narcissism makes the audience shiver in the stalls. Energy levels soared in his showstopping ‘Me.’ I wouldn’t have been the only one who wanted the entire sequence instantly repeated. It’s worth going to the show just for this.

Hurrah for the bristling, infectious fun and gaiety and energy which breezes through the show’s dramatic arc and dance routines. The Australian cast is gifted. Enthusiastic. In Nick Cox’s winning performance as Le Fou, Gaston’s sidekick, not easy to bring off, every dramatic moment, pratfall or fawning gesture is invested with heart. Charismatic Rohan Browne’s delivery as Lumiere has elegance and flair and wit and plenty of stamina because careening across the set with jumbo candlesticks for hands doesn’t look easy. Gareth Jacobs as Cogsworth is endearing. Jayde Westaby’s cockney Mrs Potts hits the spot and Rodney Dobson tugs at the heartstrings as Maurice, Belle’s beleaguered Dad.

Steeped in Hollywoodiana, there are plenty of Tinsel Town borrowings. For the costuming, think The Wizard of Oz. Belle wears a Dorothy look-a-like pinafore dress except it’s blue not red and the cast wear the kind of clothes worn by Dorothy’s Texan country clan. The production’s design isn’t squeamish how colour is deployed because the various hones and hues often clash. Matchy matchy optics are avoided at all costs.

Scenery is straightforward from the gothic anaemic splendour of the enchanted castle reminiscent of The Addams Family to the use of bright primaries to recall last century’s Busby Berkely feels with synchronised swimming moves. In a memorable moment, the entire stage is crammed with gleeful, high-kicking chorus lines.

Brendan Xavier does a good job as the Beast, his petulance, despair, anger and deafening roars make him a comic and sympathetic soul, but his performance isn’t helped by an understated beast costume, the maroon and navy costume gets lost in the shadowy castle scenes, the beast’s horns beg to be longer, the hunched back more acute and the make-up needs sharper definition.

Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken wanted the songs to advance the narrative and function as plot devices. It’s a pity that the accomplished, lively band conducted by the musical director Luke Hunter, didn’t frame and honour the songs enough for them to fully shine and fulfil this purpose. Balance could be more sensitive to the singer’s expressive shaping and allow them the time and necessary emphasis to enable the musical numbers to make the intended impact. The performance of the hit song ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for instance needed extra gloss and heightened focus.

Overall, the production has a lot going for it including deluxe special effects, plenty of razzle dazzle and moments of ingenious illusion. Despite the misgivings, this is a fun, feelgood production and makes a special night out.

Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer who publishes with Australian Stage Online, InReview and Limelight. Big Music, her novel is to be published by Hawkeye Publishing. Her memoir Elvis and Me: how a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch was released in 2016 in Australia, America, Canada, The UK and NZ.

Event details

Disney Theatrical Productions
Beauty and The Beast – The Musical
music Alan Menken | lyrics Howard Ashman and Tim Rice | book Linda Woolverton

Director Matt West

Venue: Lyric Theatre | Queensland Performing Arts Centre QLD
Dates: untl 19 May 2024

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