Beauty and the Beast: The Musical at London Palladium | Theatre review
The magic of the enchanted castle in Beauty and the Beast takes the London Palladium by storm. Like the witch casting the spell at the story’s beginning, the cast and creatives bewitch theatregoers with this spectacular musical.
Belle (Courtney Stapleton) is the odd girl in a small village, always with her nose deep in a book, and rejecting the marriage proposal of the handsome but vain Gaston (Tom Senior). As she ventures into a dark and dangerous wood in search of her unstable father, Maurice (Martin Ball), she finds him taken prisoner by a monster in the dungeons of an immense castle. She begs the monstrous owner to take her instead of the old man, and let him go. The agreed deal leads to salvation for many.
The visual impact of this production is one of its most striking elements. Costumer Ann Hould-Ward and set designer Stanley A Meyer (who, together with director and choreographer Matt West, were part of the original team who brought the musical to Broadway) have created impressive costumes and sets with majestic and delightful effect. The restaging of the show relies heavily on technology, and while that may bring to mind cool projections, here it is much more: cinematic renditions, a play on perspective, seamless expansion of the space… (That said, strobe lights occasionally pointed right into the audience’s eyes may be uncomfortable for some.)
There is an interesting, agile restructuring of the story that contrasts with the original animation and the live-action film: Belle is endowed with an even stronger and more independent character, and this Beast (Shaq Taylor) gains a more reflective spirit. The change caused by blossoming love doesn’t suddenly happen towards the end, but there is a gradual transformation. The Beast is also fun, participating in some of the most humorous sketches.
In terms of entertainment, though, the leading stars are the castle’s servants, who play a major role in giving real substance to the narrative and offering ensemble support. Gavin Lee is ebullient and amusing as Lumière, capable of swaying the atmosphere with a click of his candles. His leading number, Be Our Guest, is incredible. The catchy song reaches a dazzling peak: a shocking-pink curtain is backdrop to a carousel of ingenious choreography, including modern dance, gymnastics and a fantastic segment of tap dance (expressly incorporated to showcase Lee’s mastery in the genre). There is also smart use of costume adjustments and props, the cups featured here also appearing in another breathtaking number arranged for Gaston.
The enjoyable variety of action and tech support is complemented by the mighty voices of the stars, with Stapleton giving the audience goosebumps more than once. Angela Lansbury offers a sweet cameo as the narrator, following her voicing of Mrs Potts in the original 90s Disney movie.
Beauty and the Beast: The Musical brings fun and tension, drama and emotion, surprises and rhythm. The theme of the transformational power of love risks being cheesy for the contemporary public, but this production breathes fresh dynamics and attention into the story, making it a renewed classic.
Photo: Johan Persson
Beauty and the Beast: The Musical is at London Palladium from 24th June until 17th September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.