Disclaimer: Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with two complimentary review tickets for the show. We paid for the other tickets ourselves.
I knew Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was going to be incredible – it’s a big budget Disney musical, after all. Yet however incredible I thought it would be, that didn’t even come close to the stage spectacular my children and I witnessed at last night’s press performance as the show comes to Cardiff for the Christmas season. Beauty and the Beast is absolutely fantastic from start to finish: the performances, the sets, the musical numbers, the special effects. Everything is just so brilliant. Everything is just so…. Disney.
Beauty and the Beast was Disney’s first stage musical and has been wowing audiences since it opened on Broadway in 1994. It came to the West End in 1996, has been produced in 37 countries worldwide, and has toured the UK (and indeed the world) extensively (I first saw it in 2005).
However, this Christmas, Cardiff is one of the first UK venues to be treated to an all-new reimagined version of the show that reunites the original Broadway creative team of composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and which uses the latest stage technology and special effects to create a truly awe-inspiring and enchanting production. The show has been updated to become more diverse and reflective of modern times, while remaining true to the much-loved animated film.
Courtney Stapleton is Belle, feistier and more headstrong than we’ve seen before, yet still tender and brave, and with powerhouse vocals that showcase a full range of emotions.
Bridgend-born Alyn Hawke is Beast, and how wonderful it is to see a local performer in such an iconic role at our iconic theatre. His mannerisms are indeed very Beast-like as he moves around the stage, and we loved watching his more tender side emerging as he and Belle begin to bond and love replaces anger.
Tom Senior is suitably arrogant and self-centred as Gaston, the village heartthrob who intends to marry Belle, even though she isn’t interested in the slightest. His rapport with Louis Stockil as Le Fou is engaging to watch, and their musical number Gaston (one of my favourite Disney tunes) is as brilliantly funny as I’d hoped it would be.
As in the animation, the house-staff-turned-household-objects often really shine, with plenty of humour and performances full of character. Sam Bailey, winner of the 2013 series of X-Factor is Mrs Potts, warm and bubbly and delivering a suitably tender rendition of the title song Beauty and the Beast. Sam Murphy as Lumiere and Nigel Richards as Cogsworth make a charismatic double act full of laugh out loud moments. Accompanied by Emma Caffrey as Babette and Samantha Bingley as Madame, the whole group are brilliantly funny as they try to engineer affection between Belle and the Beast so that the curse under which they have been living will be lifted.
Ensemble number Be Our Guest is an absolute highlight of the show, its slickly choreographed dancing, dazzling, glitzy costumes and visually impressive sets filling the stage. Full of tap dancing, can-canning and even a synchronised floor-based routine which is projected onto a screen above, I wish we could have watched it again and again and again.
The age guidance is 6+, with no admittance to under threes, and there are a few moments that younger children may find scary, most notably the wolves chasing Belle’s father as he gets lost in the woods (their projection onto a screen is very clever); some of the Beast’s powerful roars; and the scene where Gaston and his angry mob head off to kill the Beast. Beast’s castle, with its various parts moving across the stage is darkly atmospheric. But such tense moments are short-lived with plenty of humour, beautiful ballads, the luscious landscapes full of sunflowers and the quirky caravan of Belle and her inventor father Maurice (Martin Ball) providing the expected Disney colour and magic.
Gaston and the Beast’s dramatic fight scene is worthy of mention for being so well-executed, full of atmosphere and menace, while the transformation of Beast into the prince he once was, is so magically done that the audience bursts into spontaneous applause. The special effects are really something in this production; you can only imagine the technical, lighting and sound wizardry going on behind the scenes to bring them to life.
Even if you’ve seen the show before, prepare to be wowed by this new version. It looks incredible, the performances are faultless, the dance routines mesmerising and ambitious, the special effects will make you wonder how on earth they did it, and the musical numbers range from tender and emotional to ones you can’t help but toe-tap along to.
If you’re planning on seeing it over the next few months, you’re in for a real treat.
As I said at the start of this review, it’s just so magical, so ambitious, so impressive, so dazzling, so… Disney.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is at Wales Millennium Centre until 15 January 2021. Some shows have sold out, or are close to selling out, but tickets are available from the Wales Millennium Centre website or do check with the box office for returns.
Beauty and the Beast is recommended for ages 6 and up. Children under 3 years of age are not permitted. The show contains strobe lighting.
In line with Welsh Government legislation, all theatre-goers age 18+ must show an NHS Covid pass to enter the theatre. Those over 11 must wear a mask throughout the performance.