Thursday 14 July 2022


Theatre review: Disney's Beauty and the Beast at The London Palladium

My first "big" theatre experience was Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway back in 2006. As a big fan of the movie, and it being my first Broadway show, it didn't take much to impress me. And impress me it did. From the lavish musical numbers through to Donny Osmond's surprising comic turn as Gaston, the more-muscles-than-brains bully wanting to marry Belle. Fast-forward 16 years and the Disney classic has made a return to London's West End, for a short stint as part of a wider UK tour. Is the show still impressive, or has some of the glitz and glamour worn off? I had the chance to find out earlier this week.

It's a tale as old as time: an arrogant and self-centred prince doesn't allow an old lady to shelter in his castle, only to find out that she was actually a witch in disguise. She curses him for his rudeness by turning him into a hideous beast. He has to fall in love with someone, and in turn that person has to fall in love with him, or the curse will last forever. Enter Belle, a beautiful girl from the local village.

We all know how the story ends, but that's not what makes the Disney adaptation such a classic. Sure the predictable romance is sweet and has the important message that true love isn't surface-level, but this adaptation's strength lies within the well-known music by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, as well as the supporting cast of characters that bring the iconic tunes to life. From the charming members of the castle's household (including comedic duo Cogsworth and Lumiere, and the sweet Mrs Potts and her little Chip) through to villainous Gaston and Le Fou in the village. All the beloved – and hated – characters from the 1991 animated film have made it into the stage version.

And thank goodness for that. Because while the show may be called Beauty and the Beast, these are two of the least interesting characters featuring within this story. The beast is a terrible person to begin with (no wonder he gets cursed), and his romance with Belle feels bland and convenient. I never really thought they were boring before, but maybe I was simply dazzled by the stunning animations (and the fact that I was a child when the film came out).

While the set design and costumes certainly are delightful, they don't feel spectacular in the same way as the film, due to the limitations of sets needing to swiftly move around and be replaced. Aside from the Beast's (Shaq Taylor) first quick-change, which happens in mere seconds and feels very, very clever – I still haven't figured out how it is done! There is also an interesting choice to use projections for some of the more elaborate scenes but those don't make an impact in quite in the same way.

What does wow audiences, however, are the big and bold show numbers. That's what live theatre is for, after all, and where this show really comes into its own. In the first act there is the iconic Be Our Guest, in which West End legend Gavin Lee (Mary Poppins, Top Hat) as candlestick-come-to-life Lumiere invites Belle (Courtney Stapleton), and the entire audience, in for an inviting, tap-dancing dining spectacle. It's flashy, over the top, and an utter delight. 

Another stand out scene in act one is Le Fou (Liam Buckland) and Gaston (Tom Senior) singing about how amazing Gaston is, all the way through to "no one can make up endless refrains like Gaston". Even though the song has been going for a good few minutes at that point, it still didn't feel long enough – that's how joyous that scene was to watch on the Palladium stage.

I wanted more of those moments, but the second act didn't have as many spectacles and felt a bit flat because of that. The only stand-out sequence was Human Again, once again led by Lumiere. This song feels especially meaningful as it was deleted from the original animated film, and brought back for the stage show. Thankfully the second half was much shorter than its flashier first part and brought the story to a satisfying happily-ever-after conclusion with a sweet rendition of the song Beauty and the Beast (aka A Tale As Old As Time), performed by Mrs Potts (Sam Bailey). 

In all, the stage adaptation of Disney's Beauty and the Beast holds very true to the original, and will undoubtedly delight its hardcore fans. And it has some fantastic sing-and-dance sequences that makes it worthwhile seeing live. I just wish that the titular characters were more interesting – and they get the same chance to shine as Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, Gaston, and Le Fou. As it stands, it's the supporting cast holding up the pillars to the iconic castle – not unlike the castle's household being the driving force behind breaking the curse. 

Disney's Beauty and the Beast is playing at The London Palladium until 17 September 2022, after which it's going to Bristol and Dublin. Book your tickets here.

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