Sunday 7 July 2024

KATE HERBERT Arts Weekly3MBS Sat06July2024

In this week's radio spot, I talk with Nick Tolhurst, producer of Arts Weekly, about The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez by Finucane & Smith, and Beauty and the Beast at Her Majesty's Melbourne.

 I also mention the season of Castro’s Children, Peter Fitzpatrick’s new Australian Musical at Gasworks.

Monday 1 July 2024

Beauty and the Beast, REVIEW 29 June 2024 **** (4)

 

MUSICAL THEATRE

Composition by Alan Menken, Book by Linda Woolverton, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice

At Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until 24 Nov 2024

Reviewer: Kate Herbert.

Stars: **** (4)

This review is published only on this blog. I’ll present a radio review on Arts Weekly on 3MBS on Sat 6 July 2024. KH

 

Shubshri Kandiah and Brendan Xavier,Beauty and the Beast - Photo by Daniel Boud


Disney has mastered the translation of fairy tale movie musicals into lavish stage musical productions for the entire family. This new Australian production of Beauty and the Beast is a visual and musical spectacle replete with exotic costumes, impressive digital design, extraordinary lighting, remarkable illusions, vivacious dance, eccentric characters and sentimental romance.

 

The story goes: an arrogant prince refuses refuge and aid to a witch and, for his selfishness, she transforms him into a monstrous beast, and he must live his days in his isolated castle. His retainers are slowly turning into inanimate objects – teapot, lamp, clock and feather duster – and the beastly prince’s days are numbered by the falling petals of a rose. When the last rose petal falls from the rose, all the castle’s residents will be permanently changed – unless the prince/beast falls in love with someone who, in turn, falls in love with him.

 

Playing Belle, the beautiful and bookish village girl who is also an eccentric outsider, Shubshri Kaniah  has a delicate, fine-toned, bell-like soprano and finds power, passion and nuance in her performance.

She was equally good as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin.

 

Brendan Xavier has a strong voice and carries the Beast’s songs effectively, although his physical characterisation of the Beast lacks the requisite grotesque grandeur and arrogance. His Beast is more a poor, crippled, broken thing than a roaring, growling monster that terrifies wolves and villagers alike. He is perhaps more at home when the Beast relaxes and finds his humanity and love. He finds the warmth and sensitivity of the Beast as he learns how to be human again.

 

Matt West is both director and choreographer, and one of the extraordinary highlights of his production is the extravagant number, Be Our Guest, performed by the entire ebullient ensemble costumed as tableware, cutlery and other objects. It features outstanding digital design and lighting effects, tap routines, chorus lines and an exciting, filmed aerial view that is reminiscent of Ziegfeld Follies.

 

The title song is beautifully and poignantly sung by Jayde Westaby as Mrs. Potts, the servant who is incrementally turning into a teapot and fears for her tiny boy, Chip (Zanda Wilkinson on opening night), who is surprisingly cheerful and chipper(pun alert) as he morphs into a teacup. Belle is pursued by popular, pompous and conceited Gaston, played by the effervescent and agile Rubin Matters.

 

Rowan Browne captures the charming French arrogance of Lumiere, former chef-turned-candelabra, and Gareth Jacobs as Cogsworth the high-camp clock, has some comical moments, although his pacing is inconsistent when he milks gags. Hayley Martin is sassy as Babette, the saucy maid who is turning into a feather duster, and Alana Tranter is the romantic Madame who is becoming a vanity table.

 

The book by Linda Woolverton finds new layers to the fairy tale, Alan Menken’s music is eclectic and often thrilling, while Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s lyrics are witty and astute, livening the characters and relationships and advancing the story. Occasionally, particularly by the end, the story and lyrics become a little too sentimental when characters in later scenes sing about some rather trite life lessons.

 

It must be said it is difficult not to draw comparisons with Australia’s first production Of Beauty and the Beast in 1995, that featured Michael Cormick as the Beast, Rachel Beck as Belle, and Gaston was played by Hugh Jackman in his early musical theatre role. Who knew what a career was ahead for him?

 

This is delightful family entertainment with some knockout choreography, design, costumes and a stellar performance by Kaniah.

 

by Kate Herbert

 

Gareth Jacobs, Hayley Martin, Rohan Browne, Jayde Westaby, Alana Tranter, Human Again - Photo by Daniel Boud

Australian Cast

Shubshri Kandiah as Belle

Brendan Xavier as Beast,

Rohan Browne as Lumiere

Gareth Jacobs Cogsworth

Jayde Westaby as Mrs. Potts

Rubin Matters as Gaston

Nick Cox as Le Fou

Rodney Dobson as Belle’s father, Maurice

Hayley Martin as Babette

Alana Tranter Madame

 

Creative Team

Director & Choreographer- Matt West

Stanley A Meyer - Scenic Designer

NatashaKatz- Lighting Designer

Jim Steinmeyer - IIlusion Designer

 

Gareth Jacobs, Hayley Martin, Shubshri Kandiah, Rohan Browne & company, Be Our Guest - Photo by Daniel Boud