Beauty and the Beast – Edinburgh Playhouse

Composition and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman & Tim Rice

Book by Linda Woolverton

Directed & Choreographed by Matt West

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sharing its name and narrative from the hegemonic version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s version of the fairy-tale, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has been a glittering, shining rose for the lives of children and adults across the globe. A tale as old as time, where a young woman finds the inner beauty within a hideous beast, a story of triumph and love over adversity and vanity, Beauty and the Beast has taken many incarnations for the Disney company; sequels, remakes, stage shows, and now a return to the latter with a revitalised and stylised re-imagining of the world’s most beloved fairy-tale.

The moment the live orchestra strikes, the enchanted prologue ripples throughout the Edinburgh Playhouse as the significant event of the season draws theatre-lovers back into their seats. A young prince, foolhardy and selfish, scorns an old beggar woman’s plea for aid – only to discover a beautiful enchantress awaits beneath the ragged cloak. Cursed into the form of a beast as punishment for his cruelty, the Prince must now unravel the complexities of love – and to be loved in return before the final petal falls from the Enchantresses’ rose; but who could ever love a beast?

Well, Courtney Stapleton not only respects and understands the origins of the character Paige O’ Hara made famous, but she also captures the resilient fortitude of Belle with a superbly relatable and more diverse appeal to a generation of young people. From her sincerity to passion, Stapleton not only channels the character but builds upon Belle, both in character and in her vocal talents. And not in the expectant number of Something There, but in the musical exclusive A Change in Me where the control and evolution of Belle’s character and voice reach a peak or perfection. 

Covering the lead role of the Beast for the Edinburgh tour, Alyn Hawke is particularly marvellous and cordial as the beastly prince. The physicality in performance is mesmerising, arched and looming in presence, commanding even the gargantuan space of the Playhouse. Booming, Hawke’s voice matches the bearing, but also humanity, of the Beast, in both speaking and vocal roles. Perhaps the most emotional of performances, at least vocally, Hawke’s transference of sorrow, regret and love through If I Can’t Love Her is a thunderous and poignant closer to the first act.

Vitally, the chemistry between Stapleton and Hawkes is palpable and energised. More than romance, the comradery the pair share is genuine and attentive – additions to the script adding time for the pair to grow closer before the romance blossoms. Additionally, the inclusion of solo pieces for both Belle and the Beast aids in communicating emotion, and those unfamiliar with the additions to the musical score, particularly Human Again and Home, may be confused at first, but the composition and lyrics created by the original master team of Menken, Ashman and Rice from the film secure their authenticity within the show.

And where the best picture nominated film takes colour to the core, this revitalised stage musical heightens the monochromatic tones to contrast the blooming crimsons and lustrous backdrops to enhance the scale of the show. Though having fewer physical set-pieces than its previous incarnation, Stanley A. Meyer’s scenic design streamlines the performances. And where it may lose the larger-than-life spectacle and camp nature of the dressings and more film accurate costumes, Meyer and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward do a spectacular job of incorporating characterisation and the mystical elements into every corner of the production. And if you’re searching for camp revelry, might we invite you to Be Our Guest?

In the immortal words of the connoisseur of entertainment himself Lumiere, what is dinner without a little music? Or specifically in the case of Be Our Guest and Gaston, a veritable maelstrom of tightly choreographed opulence – it isn’t only the dishes who can sing and dance in this production. 

As equally eye-catching and wonderfully important as the leads, Gavin Lee, Sam Bailey, Nigel Richards, Samantha Bingley and Aimee Moore as the house servants are firm favourites and a pleasure to watch. A born stage star, Lee’s Lumiere is vivacious and charismatic, an excellent tap dancer and is only matched in comedic talents by Richards tightly wound Cogsworth. Falling to Bailey to take the helm from the fabulous Angela Lansbury (who graces us as the Narrator), Mrs Pott’s caring nature is carried by Bailey with adoration, while a playful back and forth between Bingley and Moore scorch the stage with an added flair and seductive charm.

My what a guy, Gaston – Tom Senior channels the brutish thuggery of the pretty boy villain into a contemporary monstrosity. Gone is the blockheaded blundering meathead of the nineties, and in his place is a far more sinister and accurate misogynistic gaslighter: as equally comfortable as the ‘hero’ of a French village as an Eton graduate with a lot of flex and not much between the ears. Senior capitalises on the smugness of the role, flexing more than just his biceps, but his talents in rallying the village folk, a man who has never heard the word ‘no’ and needs it slammed into his dictionary. The tiniest of pacing issues arise as the production reaches climax, and while the brutality of Gaston’s assault on the Beast makes for a visceral and tense resolution, the pacing accelerates as the production reaches a lengthy runtime and dips ever-so in the finality of Gaston’s self-centred choices.

Director and choreographer Matt West snares a contemporary re-imagining of a tale as old as time Beauty and the Beast the Musical retains the majesty and integrity of the original 1991 movie while elevating its core values for contemporary audiences and delivering a merveilleuse extravaganza of theatrical magic for audiences. Rarely does a production capture the illustrious wonderment of animation or the value and enormity of stagecraft. Mesmerising, enthralling and heart-warming – grab a ticket before the final petal falls on November 27th.

Beauty and The Beast runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until November 27th. Tickets can be booked here.

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