Beauty and the Beast: The Musical – Theatre Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beauty and the Beast is a tale that is such a powerful and important part of our childhoods.

As a young girl, I loved the 1991 Disney animated feature because I could relate to Belle’s love of books. I too was a bookworm, always happily curled up with a good fantasy novel. The fairytale film eternally has a special charm to it, not just for the love story between Belle and the Beast, but for its gorgeous songs, its music, its voice acting, its stunning and genre defining visuals combining hand-drawn animation with CG, and the important morals it leaves its audience with at the end.

Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see the Australian musical premiere back in 1995, I did get to see the musical in concert form in 2014. A one-night-only event was held, complete with picnic rugs in an outdoor setting under the stars at Melbourne Zoo. Until recently, that was the only version of the stage musical I had ever seen.

Now, ten years later, this has all changed with the Melbourne season of the 2024 Australian production of Beauty and the Beast. Impressing with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Woolverton, direction and choreography by Matt West, stunning scenic design by Stanley A. Meyer, detailed costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, sound design by John Shivers, jaw dropping Illusion Design by Jim Steinmeyer and flawless video and projection design by Darrel Maloney, this newest stage version of Beauty and the Beast truly makes you believe that the Disney magic is really happening right before your eyes.

Starring Shubshri Kandiah as Belle and Brendan Xavier as Beast, I could not think of a more perfectly cast pairing. Kandiah *is* Belle, her sweet voice and strong stage presence are delightfully charming. She shines in the familiar song ‘Belle’ and its reprise, but particularly during ‘A Change In Me’. The song only came into existence after being specifically penned for Toni Braxton in the role of Belle on Broadway back in 1998 and has remained part of the musical ever since. Considering 1995 was the last time a professional major production of Beauty and the Beast was in Australia; this 2024 production is the ideal opportunity for Australian audiences to hear the song live for the first time.

Kandiah’s chemistry with Xavier feels natural and convincing despite the fantasy setting. My favourite part with the pair together is actually when they’re in the library. The scene, although not in the original movie, is such a wonderful moment where we see these two characters begin to intertwine as a couple. It’s genuinely such a beautiful scene of the production.

Xavier impresses just as much on his own. From an intimidating and depressed creature that lurks in the dark, Xavier expertly transforms Beast from his wild origins to a bubbly and excited individual with golden retriever-like energy. It’s actually so adorable and endearing to witness Beast’s growth throughout the musical and if that wasn’t enough to impress you, Xavier’s vocal prowess during the  epic song ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ will blow you away. His beautiful voice, the notes he holds, the passion in his delivery, it all left me speechless. Xavier is a gifted theatre star.

I adored Jayde Westaby as Mrs Potts. With the role originated in the animation by the late great Angela Lansbury, Westaby had big shoes to fill but does so with ease. Seen as the doting motherly figure of cute young teacup Chip, played on opening night by the infectiously likable Zanda Wilkinson, Westaby’s Mrs Potts is also the moral compass of the castle staff and is a joy to watch whenever she is on stage. Her warm and loving rendition of the title song, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is so gorgeous, it moved many in the audience to tears (including me), especially when Belle and Beast had their iconic dance together to it.

I’m convinced Rohan Browne is Lumiere personified because of how brilliant he is as the popular and suave candelabra. Showstopping number ‘Be Our Guest’ is just as fantastic live as it is in the movies and Browne holds nothing back to vigorously and diligently impress with his sublime vocals and supreme dancing skills. Equipped with real flames because well, he is a candelabra, it is Browne’s performance alone that truly make you believe you too have stepped into Beast’s hidden castle.

Browne’s chemistry with Gareth Jacobs is hilariously great. Jacobs playing the ever serious but smartly sassy Cogsworth with finesse. Naturally funny and extremely likable, the moments that Jacobs and Browne share on stage together is so much fun, I found myself wishing to see their characters bicker more with each other.

Lumiere’s love interest Babette is the gorgeous feather duster of the household played by the talented Hayley Martin. Her mesmerising dance solo had me wanting more and I wish the character had a bigger part to play. The same goes for Alana Tranter’s Madame, the talking wardrobe. Making the best of her stage time, it was hard not to love Tranter’s Madame for her enthusiastic and giddy excitement for love matches.

Although originally written for the animated film but not making the cut, and then being added after in a special edit, I never cared for the song ‘Human Again’ until this musical production. Now? I love it. This wonderful song had Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, Madame, Babette and Chip all clinging to hope together and each other.

Now for the human characters! Rodney Dobson is quirky and fun as Belle’s kind inventor father. His on stage chemistry with Kandiah’s Belle, although brief, is warm, loving and believable. LeFou is played with an untaught humour and zest by Nick Cox. Despite being Gaston’s sidekick, Cox is just as commanding on stage, if not equally commanding.

Normally played by Jason Head, opening night saw Rubin Matters jump into the role of Gaston, and let me tell you, he killed it! Opening night audiences were blessed to see Matters ace the part of the striking antagonist. While the song ‘Gaston’ is iconic and super catchy, complete with *that* captivating mug dance, it is during ‘The Mob Song’ that Matters really devours the role. Hilarious, devilishly handsome, an incredible dancer, and with a voice that demands your attention, it would be criminal to not have Matters play a leading role in future. Matters felt like a spotlight rival of Lumiere with how great the two are in this Australian production.

Needless to say, the cast of Beauty and the Beast are solid and the stunning visuals including the costuming, the lighting, the projection, the illusions, as well as the music all enhance the magic and bring this beloved story to life. Some of the scenes and effects on display in this production are exquisitely jaw-dropping and must be seen to be believed. This musical has showcased things I’ve never seen before in musical theatre and it’s so great to see that such a beloved classic tale has translated well to the stage and has made a triumphant return to our fair city.

A gorgeous immersive adventure, technically phenomenal, deeply moving and dazzlingly spectacular, Beauty and the Beast is as magical as it is breathtaking. Seamlessly translating from screen to stage while maintaining its movie magic, this musical is a wonder for all who visit and I dare say, it has cemented itself as the ultimate and favourite Disney musical of Australia.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Musical is currently playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne until December 29, 2024.
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Photography by David Boud.

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