Published on June 30th, 2024 | by Sandro Falce

Beauty and the Beast Review (Melbourne, Her Majesty’s Theatre)

If you’ve been anywhere in the city of Melbourne this year, then you probably know about Disney’s new ‘Beauty and the Beast’ production. After half a year of seeing the posters on every tram and billboard and street corner, the time has finally come and the new stage adaptation of the classic ’91 animated film has arrived.

It’s the story exactly how you remember it. Belle (Shubshri Kandiah) feels like an outsider in her small town because she has big dreams and media literacy. The Beast (Brendan Xavier) is a prince who has to overcome his anger and kidnap himself a wife. All the staff of his castle are wonderful anthropomorphic household objects (most notably Rohan Browne as Lumiere, Gareth Jacobs as Cogsworth and Jayde Westaby as Mrs Potts). Gaston (played by swing actor Rubin Matters during the Melbourne premiere, but usually played by Jackson Head) is a bully who wants to kill the Beast and marry Belle. Like most of the live-action Disney movies we’ve gotten recently, this production doesn’t change anything and merely presents the story in a new way for a new audience to discover the magic all over again.

And there’s a lot of magic to discover in this show, especially in the big musical numbers. If you ask anyone what they remember the most from the classic movie, some might say the problematic love story that didn’t even hold up well in the ‘90s, but most highlight numbers like ‘Be Our Guest’ and the title song ‘Beauty and the Beast’, as sung by Angela Lansbury. And it’s in these moments where this new show shines. These musical moments are big, deliciously over-the-top servings of singing and dance that are on a scale unlike any productions I’ve seen recently. Particular highlights include the aforementioned ‘Be Our Guest’, where the entire stage transforms into bright and vibrant colours, adding in tap-dancing and chorus lines of plates and spoons. It’s wonderful. Gaston’s big number, creatively titled ‘Gaston’, turns the theatre into a loud tavern and shows off just how tight the choreography is. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was smiling from ear to ear during the majority of the songs in this show.

Unfortunately, this energy doesn’t continue during more dialogue-heavy scenes of the show. There are many moments, usually in the Beast’s castle, where you have two or three characters alone on stage having a conversation about how the Beast is being mean or how Cogsworth doesn’t trust Lumiere to make these two lead characters fall in love with each other, and the energy just isn’t there. It feels wooden and lifeless, like a scene you’d walk past in a theme park starring a couple of park actors with awkward pauses in the dialogue for kids to heckle them or chant them on, and not like a scene you’d expect to see in a theatre production. Now, this is by no means a criticism of the actors. They are all great in their roles, particularly Browne and Jacobs as Lumiere and Cogsworth, however the writing and stage direction for these scenes is seriously lacking and needs a little extra something to help it match the rest of the show.

A running theme for most of these energy drops seems to be where these scenes are set: in the Beast’s castle. Aside from the castle, every single set in this show is wonderful, from Belle’s town to Gaston’s tavern to the wolf-ridden forest, so why is it that this one location doesn’t work? Most of the show relies on the giant LCD screen to set the scene, using the screen as a backdrop to the practical set of Belle’s house that actors can walk in and out of. They get the balance pretty perfect, never relying on the screen too much for things that could easily be built. That is, aside from the castle, which is mostly a lifeless black void with a staircase or a rotating pedestal, which leaves this location completely devoid of any of the personality or gothic architecture that we come to expect from watching the original movie. Eventually, towards the second act of the play, they start to introduce new locations in the castle that work really well and allow for more intimate scenes between Kandiah and Xavier. This, however, doesn’t excuse how visually dull most of the castle moments during the first act were.

Okay, some more positives about the show. The outfits! You can always trust Disney to have the budget for some truly breathtaking wardrobes, and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ does not disappoint. Brendan Xavier’s Beast might just be the best the character has ever looked. The way his horns frame his wig, the way his back hair is sticking out of tears on his jacket, and even the makeup on his nose is all incredibly believable.

For the castle’s servants, the outfits and the performances work hand-in-hand. Lumiere looks the most like his character from the movies, with Rohan Browne nailing the accent and the fun energy needed for such an iconic character. While Cogsworth’s costume may look a little cheap, Gareth Jacobs is a joy to watch. And you can’t talk about these characters without mentioning the talking teacup Chip, played by Zanda Wilkinson on opening night. I honestly have no idea how they made this character work. Whenever I thought I’d figured out what stage trickery they were using, they’d do another bit of trickery and I’d have to start guessing again. It’s wonderful.

Shubshri Kandiah shines as Belle, we don’t get enough songs with her. She is a joy to watch as this character. Brendan Xavier’s performance as the Beast is wonderful as well, particularly in the second half of the play where he drops his gruffness and allows the character to feel more. But the highlight for me had to be Rubin Matters as Gaston. Initially, it was quite a surprise to see that we were getting the swing actor in for the show’s Melbourne premiere, but Matters nailed it and gave the best performance of the night. On the flip side of that, Nick Cox as Le Fou didn’t work for me, however this very over-the-top performance would be a hit for the younger audience members.

So while ‘Beauty and the Beast’ isn’t a home run, it still has a lot of magic that fans of the Disney classic are sure to love. The show is running now at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne and is expected to stay on stage until the end of the year.

About the Author

Comedian, podcaster and radio presenter.

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