Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton
Disney Theatrical Productions, supervised by Thomas Schumacher
Palace Theatre, Manchester
31 March - 4 June; 2hr 30min
Disney's Beauty and the Beast has arrived at the Palace Theatre, Manchester for an eagerly-anticipated 10-week run.
The big budget show, based on the classic 1991 Oscar-winning animated film, began on Broadway in 1994 with the West End version opening three years later.
This new, reimagined version, by Disney Theatrical Productions, combines the classic story of the strong-willed Belle (Courtney Stapleton) and the cursed prince (Shaq Taylor) with the latest in technical stage wizardry.
The much-loved songs from the film, by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who died before its release) are supplemented by additional numbers by Menken and Tim Rice.
From opening number Belle to the laugh-out-loud Gaston, it's easy to forget these songs weren't actually written for the theatre – they seem so perfect for a stage musical.
Ornate costumes (by Ann Hould-Ward) and sets (by Stanley A. Meyer) combine with stunning lighting (by Natasha Katz) and some of the best use of projections and videos (by Darrel Malony) that this reviewer has seen.
The cast is as good as the staging: Stapleton is a genuine triple-threat (though she amusingly drew the line at doing the splits in one number) showing off warm, believable acting, a beautiful voice and effortless dancing.
Taylor brings great physicality to the role of the beast, but allows the hurt of the young boy he once was to show through his mask.
Nikki Evans has one of the toughest tasks of the night, following Angela Lansbury's iconic turn as cockney teapot Mrs Potts, but she absolutely nails it, combining motherly warmth with a beautiful voice - especially in the night's biggest ahhhhhhhhh moment - the title song Beauty and the Beast.
The show has an ace up its sleeve in the brilliant casting of Tony and Olivier-nominated Gavin Lee (the original Bert in Mary Poppins in the West End) as flirty candlestick Lumiere. Lee has star wattage to match the (real) flames that he magics into action throughout the show, and his reputation as one of theatre's best tap dancers is confirmed in Act 1's Dazzling Busby Berkeley-style showstopper Be Our Guest: sheer theatrical joy.
Making up the other half of the hilarious double act is Nigel Richard's stuffy carriage clock Cogsworth, who can't quite hide his fear and panic about remaining a timepiece forever.
Manchester's Tom Senior has a lot of fun and shows great vocals as the egotistical and controlling Gaston – who turns darker as the show goes on. Liam Buckland makes the most of his role as sidekick Le Fou and Samantha Bingley is fabulous as the matchmaking wardrobe Madam Le Grand Bouche. Youngster Rojae Simpson stole the hearts of the audience as teacup Chip.
It's the sort of show where (if you've seen the film) you sort of know what to expect, but this dazzling production takes those expectations and simply elevates them. Resistance is futile: this is a beautiful, feel-good production that lives up to the hype.
More info and tickets here