Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Westpac St James, Wellington

12/01/2006 - 28/01/2006

Production Details

Originally directed by Robert Jess Roth, directed by Stephen Robertson

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton

Set design :Harold Moot
Lighting design: Grant Robertson
Sound design and some pyrotechnical special effects: Terry Molloy

Musical director: Nicola Lynch-Reeves
Choreographer: Leigh Evans
Costumes designed by Weta Workshop

Not only is magic an integral element of this delightful, age-old fairy story, but the characters, music, costumes and set combine to charm and bedazzle an audience like few other productions can.

Jade Steele
Glen Drake
Lloyd Scott
Russell Dixon
Stephen Gledhill
Gladys Hope
Rob Orsmby
Shirley Kauter

Theatre , Music , Family , Children’s , Dance ,

Beat that, Broadway

Review by Denis Welch 28th Jan 2006

The world never tires, it seems, of riffs on the beauty and the beast theme. King Kong proves that, as does The Phantom of the Opera, and the hundreds of variations on Frankenstein and Dracula. The modern template for them all though, is Beauty and the Beast itself – originally a French fairy-tale, then books, plays, films and now, inevitably, a musical.

In Showbiz Wellington’s sumptuous production, the set up is efficiently summarised in the first three minutes. You know the routine. The selfish prince spurns a beggar-woman at his castle gate, she zaps him with a spell, turning him into a hideous monster, and only if someone loves hum can he be restored to his handsome self. As the title song says, it’s a tale as old as time.

The challenge for any production, let alone a musical one, is not so much to save beauty from the beast as to rescue an entertaining show from the plodding predictability of done-to-death idea. With some fantastic Weta Workshop (designed) costumes and great choreographic help from Leigh Evans, director Stephen Robertson meets the challenge superbly by pumping up the comedy and giving us ensemble numbers to die for.

To see about 60 performers hoofing their hearts to songs like "Be Our Guest" and "Human Again" is an exhilarating experience in the finest Broadway tradition. You want musical theatre, this is it, in spades. There’s almost as much movement by the scenery, for that matter – castles advancing and receding, villages skating into view, trees going every which way.

There are some terrific comic turns, too, by the experienced actors playing the Beast’s spellbound servants, and by Russell Dixon as vainglorious Gaston, who woos Belle (the beauty) with lines like "We’ll be the perfect pair, just like my thighs."

Even Robertson, however, can’t mask the languor’s of the creaky plot or the tuneless tedium of some of the lessor songs. And on the evidence of opening night, anyway, he seems to have misdirected Glen Drake (the Beast) into a style of acting that’s over the top to the point of buffonish.

Belle is also inexplicably underlit. The show is two-thirds through before, finally, we see her fully lit features downstage.

Luckily, Jade Steele is a talented actor as well as an excellent singer. Only 17, she has just left school. Few who were in the theatre on opening night could doubt that they were seeing a star in the making.


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Showbiz magic despite wonky moral

Review by John Smythe 20th Jan 2006

The performing talent, design elements, music, choreography and most of the staging ensure that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, directed by Stephen Robertson for Showbiz Wellington (a trading name of Wellington Musical Theatre) is an exhilarating show to see.

Shame about the corny story. An arrogant young prince turns away an old crone seeking shelter in his castle. When she turns out to be a beautiful enchantress it’s too late. His failure to show compassion dooms him to being a hideous beast while his household staff slowly transform into household objects.

To break the spell the Beast must learn to love another, and earn love in return, before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose the crone first offered in return for shelter. Fair enough. But it’s no crone who facilitates this. Belle, the strong-willed daughter of Maurice, an eccentric inventor, is beautiful and pure so of course the Beast falls for her.

I guess it’s self-loathing that stops him expressing his love for her but, as he’s dying from a fight with Gaston, the he-man hunter who wants Belle as his trophy wife, it’s Belle who declares her love for the Beast. He ascends into a curtain of fire, returns to earth as a handsome young prince, the household objects become human again and happy-ever-afters are promised.

But failure to prove the prince is not still a self-absorbed emotion-withholder, attracted only by youth and beauty, render it morally wonky.

That said 17 year-old Christchurch beginner Jade Steele and the very experienced Glen Drake excel in the title roles. Lloyd Scott is a lovable Maurice and Russell Dixon revels in making Gaston a cross between Li’l Abner and The Fonz.

In superb working costumes designed by Weta Workshop, Stephen Gledhill, Gladys Hope, Rob Orsmby and Shirley Kauter delight in playing a ticking clock, steaming teapot, flaring candelabra and wardrobe complete with drawers.

The splendid 31-strong chorus contrasts an exuberantly over-the-top exhortation for Belle to ‘Be Our Guest’ with a truly menacing ‘Mob Song’, as Gaston seeks to get his way through fear-mongering and violence.

With Harold Moot’s constantly changing story-book sets, Grant Robertson’s lighting design, Terry Molloy’s sound design and some pyrotechnical special effects, Stephen Robertson, musical director Nicola Lynch-Reeves and choreographer Leigh Evans preside over show-biz magic.

Some elements still required attention by the third night (which critics were asked to transfer to when technical problems saw the original opening night billed as a preview). A steam-driven wood-chopping illusion was unconvincing and key emotional transitions were not well marked early on. But the twists and turns that threatened to destroy the happy ending were strongly achieved, producing the all-important feelings of concern among the audience.

The set and costumes, and some of performers in different centres, are to be used in regional productions of Disney’s Beauty and Beast due to play Christchurch (from 8 April), Dunedin (from 22 June), Invercargill (from 4 July) and Auckland (from 9 September).


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Energy and Panache abound

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Jan 2006

The gremlins that caused problems last week for New Zealand’s first production of the sixth longest running show in Broadway’s history were nowhere to be seen on Saturday when a packed St. James greeted Beauty and the Beast with acclaim.

Adapted for the stage by Linda Woolverton, a co-writer for the 1991 Disney cartoon, Beauty and the Beast is a spectacular children’s pantomime that should entrance and impress even those used to the computerised wonderlands of Skull Island, Middle Earth and Narnia.

The movie’s visual freedom has been cleverly adapted to the stage confines with some impressive storybook scenery. It encompasses the exterior of a gloomy neo-Gothic castle and several rooms inside, a spooky forest, a picturesque village,
a beer cellar, and for some reason a fluorescent rainbow dining hall.

The costumes and the props (especially a car that in less sophisticated time would have earned a round of applause) are superb, particularly the costumes created for the servants of the Beast, who are slowly turning into a teapot, a candlestick, a teacup, a clock and an elegant armoire.

Topping it all of are highly effective pyrotechnical displays at crucial moments, such as when an old woman turns the Prince into the Beast.

Despite the usual over-miking that is the curse of modern musicals, the performances from the large cast are excellent, using energy and panache to convey their characters. Jade Steels sings sweetly and is an attractive and appealing Belle with plenty of feistiness for a modern day heroine. Glen Drake plays the Beast on one very loud angry, monotonous note till he learns to love Belle. Then Drake suddenly makes the Beast believably vulnerable and sympathetic.

Russell Dixon as Gaston plays the comedic role with gusto and some excellent timing, though it was hard to take the comedian turning into the villain of the piece. David Hoskins as Gaston’s cheeky sidekick and Lloyd Scott as Belle’s oddball father impress in their brief roles.

Gladys Hope, Rob Ormsby, Stephen Gledhill, Shirley Kauter, and Michelle Daly as the servants turning into furniture and crockery make a delightful comic vaudeville quintet, with Ormsby twice whispering a couple of lines and getting a laugh on both, proving it is not necessary to have microphones turned up full all the time.

Beauty and the Beast is a handsomely mounted and spiritedly performed family entertainment.


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