Australian Dance Reviews

Tale as old as time: ‘Beauty and the Beast the Musical’ opening night

Shubshri Kandiah and Brendan Xavier in Disney's 'Beauty and The Beast the Musical'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Shubshri Kandiah and Brendan Xavier in Disney's 'Beauty and The Beast the Musical'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Capitol Theatre, Sydney. 
22 June 2023. 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast the Musical premiere at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on the evening of Thursday 22nd of June, was an enchanting spectacular receiving a passionate standing ovation not once, but twice, with the first mid-show!

Based on the 1991 animated film, the original production of Beauty and the Beast played for more than 13 years on Broadway, remaining to this day one of the top 10 longest running shows in Broadway history, and touring to 37 countries worldwide.

Threaded together by Alan Menken’s music, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s music, the book by Linda Woolverton — the adored classic tale — was reimagined for all generations. Matt West’s choreography gave it a dazzling dose of old Hollywood flair, Darrel Maloney’s video design and projections served a live cinematic experience, and Stanley A. Meyer’s scenic design, complimented by Natasha Katz’s lighting design, constructed an extravagant three-dimensional experience beyond measure. 

From the moment the orchestra set the scene with the prelude, the audience was captivated. The magical tale began, and the audience’s breath was taken away with the illusional transfiguration of the old beggar woman who became the beautiful enchantress, followed by the Prince and his rapid transformation into the Beast (Brendan Xavier). With swift speed, the story unfolded, and the characters were introduced.  

Shubshri Kandiah graced the stage as Belleportraying the odd but elegant misfit who is highly sought-after by the chauvinistic Gaston(Jackson Head). Known for her roles as Princess Jasmine in the national and international tour of Aladdin and Ella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Opera Australia), she has been praised by critics. Claiming the princess title, Kandiah’s stage presence and vocals were powerfully projected throughout the theatre despite the music levels being slightly overpowering. Born for the spotlight, the role suited her effortlessly as her character evolved throughout the story. 

Moving swiftly from scene to scene, the audience was introduced to her father Maurice – the crazy inventor – played by Rodney Dobson, as well as the brutish Gaston. Jackson Head as Gaston was the an impeccable choice not only for resemblance, stature and strength but also for charisma and showmanship. He brought a lightness and comical charm to the performance. Sharper and more pronounced movements in his dance quality would have added to the brash self-entered character. Nevertheless, his lyrics and lines made up for this through dialogue with Belleand Le Fouwho was played by Nick Cox. 

After Maurice makes his way through to the woods and is held hostage by the Beast in the castle, we are introduced to Lumiere (Rohan Browne), Cogsworth (Gareth Jacobs), Mrs Pots (Jayde Westaby), Chip (Orlando Steiner), Babette (Hayley Martin) and Madame (Alana Tranter). Browne’s French pizzazz and suave magnetism in his golden costume – along with accentuated gestures and real flames for hands – rallied the other characters to break the magic spell. Excitedly, the object characters dressed in their spectacular costumes designed by Anne Would-Ward set the mission to bring Belle and the Beast together. Martin who plays Babette embodied the character’s French flare with a touch of classic Hollywood glamour, and Jacobs captured the cautious Cogsworth superbly. Westaby was compassionate and nurturing and managed to keep Chip on his tray without a spill. Constant whispers rippled throughout the theatre wondering how on earth Orlando Steiner’s teacup head was visible but not his body!

As Belle attempts to release her father, she encounters the frightening Beast played byBrendan Xavier, who had a live-cast and body scan along with hand-sculpted prosthetics to create his beastly form. Exploring more grounded and animalistic movements would have served the character more effectively, as well as, movement cues instigated with subtle épaulement to embody such characterisations. However, the lack of such subtleties may be due to the pace in which the dialogue was delivered, staging requirements which allowed minimal time for movement transitions, or perhaps it was the restrictiveness of such a distinctive costume that hindered such nuances. Oddly, the beast in comparison to other scenes didn’t seem to get as much air time, and it was only after the musical’s dance extravaganza and interval that Xavier’s exceptional talent was truly showcased.

“Be Our Guest” was a 10-and-a-half-minute spectacular which could be developed into a musical of its own. Wowing the audience with multiple costume changes, extravagant set changes from arches, to revolving floors, mirrored projections resembling old Hollywood kaleidoscope-like choreography reminiscent of the days of Esther Williams and Busby Berkeley in the 1930s and 1940s. It was an extravaganza that stole the show. The ensemble was divine, showcasing every skill from ballet to the Can Can to acrobatics. The audience went wild!

Followed was the conflict between Belle and the Beast which causes her to escape the castle into the woods. In an effort to protect her, the Beast is harmed by wolves cleverly portrayed and projected onto a transparent screen. Whilst these moments were a brilliant creative interpretation from screen to stage, combined with the lighting, incredibly vivid growling and blood stained scratches, it does beg to question whether such scenes are too confronting for young children? Needless to say, it would be in alignment with Disney’s classification rating, but parents, do be prepared.

From here, the emotional bond between Belle and the Beast develops, and they connect over their sense of being odd misfits along with a shared interest in books found in the Beast’s opulent library. Distracted by the hindered embodiment and movement quality of the Beast, their relationship seemed to pick up momentum, and before long, we were at the ball scene. Captivated by all that was going on, it is hard to recall this enchanted scene. Perhaps it was Belle’s magnificent golden ballgown – which was based off the coronation frock of Queen Elizabeth II and was hand beaded – or perhaps it was the cinematic moving set design, music score, vocals and lyrics that caused my eyes to flood with tears throughout the song “Beauty and the Beast.” Nevertheless, it was breathtaking and magical. Following this was Xavier’s soothing and intoxicating vocals in “If I Can’t Love Her.” It wasn’t until this point that we connected with the Beast and experienced more of his character and incredible talent.

Word gets back to Gaston and the townspeople, and the battle with the Beast begins. Gaston falls to his death, and the magical spell is broken. Three hundred costumes, 4000 fabrics and trims, 119 wigs, and 821 mug clinks later, the crowd erupted with a standing ovation and ongoing applause as the cast enjoyed their opening night bow, showered in golden confetti which floated down from above. 

Producer and President of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher states, “At its heart, Beauty and the Beast is a resonant legend of transformation. Hearts and minds are changed, and people are figuratively and literally transformed by the enormous power of love and understanding. Although you will find that this new stage adaptation has been revisited, revised, updated and enhanced, its core significances remain: we’re all Belle. Knowledge is power. The Gastons of the world fall victim to their own corruption and fallacy. We can make our own families. And more than ever before, the power of understanding, empathy, sacrifice and love can always transform ugliness into true beauty.” 

You do not want to miss this musical! Tickets to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are on sale now for performances through to 5 November, exclusively through Ticketmaster.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa. 

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