Beauty and the Beast at Bristol Hippodrome

THE Walt Disney Company maybe one of the biggest and most powerful names in mass media entertainment, with theme parks, travel companys and television studios among its interests, but at heart it is still the film company that introduced Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio to the world. Those film roots are very evident as you watch this ultra-slick production unfold.

The way in which scene morphs into scene morph, blended together by expertly-conceived lighting and sound plots and outstanding video effects (including one number that gives you a bird’s eye view of a Busby Berkeley-style choreographed dance routine), is so seamless that it gives the impression that you are watching a film rather than a stage production.

The show-stopping Be Our Guest number would have been as equally at home in one of those blockbusting musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as it was rousing the Bristol Hippodrome audience to a wildly enthusiastic response.

In several recent productions of this show, the characters have been so overplayed that they bordered on, and in some cases toppled over into, caricature. On this occasion director/ choreographer Matt West has shown a much firmer hand, with the result that some lovely fairytale characters emerge.

Small in stature but large in voice, Courtney Stapleton’s feisty Belle is a worthy opponent for Shaq Taylor’s imposing, frustrated and unhappy Beast. The way in which their animosity turns into true love comes straight off the pages of a fairytale. There was an equally loving relationship between Belle and Martin Ball as her nicely eccentric father.

It was good to see Tom Senior remembering that the arrogant womaniser Gaston is not just a figure of fun, but also the nasty villain in the story – a character he kept firmly in place throughout in words and music. It was left to the expert tumbler Louis Stockil, as Gaston’s nervous henchman Le Fou, to provide the broader comedy.

The castle servants, all in the process of turning from people into inanimate objects, and desperate for Beauty to fall in love with the Beast in order to break the evil spell placed on him, are even more difficult to play in a restrained manner. They were ideally paced by Alyn Hawke, a lovely Maitre de of a Lumiere with a good line in delivery of a song and dance, Nigel Richards forever-near-panicking Cogsworth, Sam Bailey’s homely, loving Mrs Potts, with one of the five youngsters alternating in the role of her son Chip. Add Samantha Bingley and Emma Caffrey, as Madame and Babette, taking full advantage of the limited musical, dramatic and musical opportunities thrown their way and an ensemble bursting with talent and enthusiasm and you have a really strong company on view.

Musical director and conductor Jonathan Gill was also in good form, ensuring that his ten-piece orchestra was not dominated by the two keyboards, so that we could hear the contributions from the flute, piccolo, French horn, trumpet, violin and cello players.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 12th November.


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