Beauty and the Beast, Bristol Hippodrome

IN the golden era of Hollywood, you could always pick out a production made by one of the five studios – MGM. Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, and RKO – who dominated the industry, because of the visual production quality of their films. No matter how good or bad the film might be they were always visually top class.

The same can be said of stage presentations (and this one is no exception) that have the name Disney Theatrical Productions above the title. Because the show is in Bristol for such a short run, closing on Saturday 18th September, I feared that this might be a cut-down touring version, but far from it! The sets, costumes, video and illusion effects, sound design and lighting are all out of the top draw, making it a visual treat.

With such a high-class framework in which to work, fine orchestrations and eye-catching choreography, the players could not really go wrong (providing they don’t forget the words or bump into the furniture!)

Courtney Stapleton, petite in stature, big in voice, a sympathetic, never-simpering Belle {Beauty), and Emmanuel Kojo, showing admirable restraint, never allowing his obviously powerful voice and personality to overwhelm the pathos within the Beast, led in fine style , with a supporting cast who painted a string of delightful characters.

The audience was definitely on the side of Gavin Lee’s suave Lumiere, the warm-hearted Sam Bailey’s Mrs Potts and her son Chip, Nigel Richard’s fussy Cogsworth, and Samantha Bingley’s Wardrobe, and Emma Caffrey’s Babbette, despite their personal vanity. There was an audible sigh of disappointment when the audience thought that they would not soon be returned to being real people again.

When they combined with the talented ensemble in Be Our Guest, with choreography and video images bringing back memories of legendary Busby Berkeley dance routines, it really was a show-stopper.

There was a similarly spectacular and energetic routine for Gaston, with Tom Senior, a wonderfully self-important arrogant Gaston leading the company from the front.

A word of praise for Martin Ball as Belle’s eccentric father, no songs, only limited dialogue, but an expertly drawn character.

Taking full advantage of the top of the range visual effects, the realistic final fight to the death between the Beast and Gaston had the younger members of the audience on their feet with excitement.

There are moments when the storyline veers towards melodrama and on other occasions pantomime, but keeping control, director/choreographer Matt West ensured that the balance was right.

If you would like to catch up with this production over the Christmas period it can be seen in the Welsh Millenium Centre from 9th December 9th to 15th January.

Gerry Parker.

Pictured: Courtney Stapleton and Emmanuel Kojo star as Beauty and the Beast in the new tour, which begins at Bristol Hippodrome.

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