REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast is a dazzling revival of this tale as old as time and quite frankly… If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it

Nigel Richards as Cogsworth, Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts, Gavin Lee as Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Photo by Johan Persson © Disney

Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome

Performance Date: 09 March 2022

Reviewer: Gemma Fincher

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Disney is enjoying somewhat of a UK stage renaissance of late. With Frozen, and Mary Poppins joining West End stalwart The Lion King, audience are spoilt for choice with Disney offerings in the capital. Currently touring the UK is the seminal production of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and this lavish and decadent revival of one of the most popular Disney’s stories – Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast has landed on the Birmingham Hippodrome stage for a three-week residency. News has recently broken that the production will be enjoying a summer run at the London Palladium. Whilst it’s a joy for the wider UK to be given the opportunity to enjoy such a stunning production, it’s safe to say this show belongs in the West End and will undoubtedly do very well there.

It’s somewhat astonishing to think that this musical made its Broadway debut a whopping 28 years ago. The 2022 revival is a vibrant and vivacious reimaging of the old classic yet safely retains its original charm. Several members of the original creative team have joined forces once again to deliver the songs of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice to delight old and new audiences alike.

The scene is well and truly set as the curtain rises to one of the most dulcet, familiar, and comforting voices of a generation. Her role might only be fleeting, but Angela Lansbury delivering the prologue truly sets the scene for a high-budget celebration of this wonderful story.

With principal Belle, Courtney Stapleton, indisposed Grace Swaby-Moore steps into the role and does so with class and poise. She is vocally on point, and she embodies Belle’s fierceness and benevolence with the utmost precision. Swaby-Moore is complemented perfectly by the imposing Shaq Taylor as Beast. With vocals as smooth as caramel and an enviable stage presence, he delivers a masterful performance as the petulant and unkind prince turned cursed monster. Taylor’s sensitivity and nuanced delivery of Beast’s arc is beautifully done.

Tom Senior brings untold levels of masculinity to the vain and villainous Gatson. His eye-popping, bulging biceps and incredibly athletic physique provide the perfect aesthetic for the self-absorbed chauvinist. Senior more than holds his own vocally and is perfect casting for one of Disney’s most iconic bad guys. Louis Stockil is a joy as Gaston’s downtrodden and hapless sidekick, Le Fou. Not as camp as Josh Gad’s 2017 live-action incarnation, Stockil delivers a version of Le Fou more in keeping with the 1991 animated version. He is the perfect bumbling fool, and his physical comedy is quite something to behold. Martin Ball also puts in a solid turn as Belle’s eccentric, inventor father Maurice and intermingles with the wider cast beautifully.

However, it is Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Madame who truly steal the show. The casting of these roles is utter perfection. Gavin Lee oozes charm and hilarity as the animated and exuberant candlestick Lumière. His comic timing is off the charts, his over-the-top French accent hysterical and his constant flourishing pyrotechnics all serve to deliver a wonderfully humorous and pitch-perfect performance. Lumière’s optimism is complemented in droves by Nigel Richards’ uptight and haughty Cogsworth. They play off each other wonderfully, and the joy they pump into their performances is truly palpable.

Sam Bailey is wonderful as Mrs. Potts, and her beautiful rendition of the titular number ‘Beauty and the Beast’ demonstrates just why she endeared herself to the British public when she won The X Factor in 2013. Samantha Bingley as Madame is a revelation. Her vocals are next level, her operatic voice is stunning, which combined with Bailey’s is goosebump-inducing. It’s just a shame that they don’t collaborate more. It’s not just Bingley’s vocals that shine, though, it’s also her comic timing. She is comedy gold; her nuanced facial expressions are one of the highlights of the entire show.

The Beauty and the Beast cast is large. The ensemble truly works their socks off. Nick Winston’s choreography is complex, high-energy, and intricate. We all know the number that is most synonymous with Beauty and the Beast is ‘Be our Guest, and wow, it doesn’t disappoint. The component parts of the production are a visual feast. Stanley A Meyer’s scenic design and Darrel Maloney’s projection/video design are quite stunning. The show makes use of every inch of the stage during ‘ Be our Guest’ and it truly is an unbelievable sequence. Indeed, it seems like the perfect end to Act One, and it’s odd then that it isn’t. That said, this doesn’t detract at all from the sheer perfection of this production.

This version of Beauty and the Beast is a dazzling revival of this tale as old as time and quite frankly… If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.

Runs until Saturday 26 March and on Tour

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