Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Presented by Swell Productions and State Opera of SA
Reviewed Saturday 14th May 2011

Venue: The Opera Studio, State Opera of SA, 216 Marion Road, Netley
Season: ended
Duration: 90 mins incl interval

This production sold out so quickly that the season was extended. The extended season also sold out quickly and another couple of performances were added due to the enormous demand both from people who not yet seen it and people who had done so, and wanted to see it again. It should already be very easy to guess where this review is heading.

Based on the Disney stage production, this reworked version is directed, choreographed and designed by Patrick Lim and acknowledges its origin in an 18th Century French fairy tale (La Belle et la Bête) by the use of accents by the full cast, apart from the English characters, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth. These were not always convincing and were a little inconsistent, but that really mattered very little in the long run.

Lim chose to escape the brightness and colourfulness of the Disney film and use sepia tones to give a more subdued feel to the work in an attempt to bring out some of the darkness of the original tale. The minimalist set is stylish, effective and allows plenty of space for the large cast, and the projection of the shadows of the transformed characters that live with the Beast in his castle is both clever and clearly representative. Kate Harford’s costumes are terrific and Laraine Wheeler’s lighting, as always, complements the production perfectly.

This is another production in the Broadway Junior Series and the cast, therefore, are young people who have been learning from and working with Lim over a period of time, some for several years who now have considerable experience performing in previous productions. That experience, and the confidence that it gives, is evident in this very polished production.

The production has two sets of leads who alternate between playing the main characters and performing as part of the ensemble. At the performance that I attended, Yen Yen Stender (who, I believe, appeared in the 2008 film, Hey, Hey, it’s Esther Blueburger) played the role of Belle (the Beauty) and Joe Meldrum played the Beast. Their individual performances were most impressive and they were a superbly well balanced pairing. Stender gave us a tender and loving daughter, a sensitive and empathetic captive and a staunch friend, in a very finely crafted characterisation. Meldrum, on the other hand, gave a strength and power to his beast, but with a sadness, longing and gentleness beneath the gruff exterior, a complete contrast to Stender’s Belle that allowed for all the right sparks to fly when they mutual love is revealed.

Callum Warrender gives us a self-important Gaston, the bombastic hunter who cannot understand why Belle does not fall at his feet and agree to marry him. In a thoughtful characterisation, Warrender gives us a Gaston who deludes himslef into thinking that he is every woman’s dream when, in fact, he is a crass, uneducated, muscle-bound, uncultured slob who has no idea just how unattractive he really is. Tayla Prime is like a Jack Russell terrier in the role of his off-sider, Lefou, bobbing around him sycophantically, treating him like an idol and and as a role model. She is full of boundless energy and, in her clever interpretation of Lefou’s hero worship, makes Lefou unwittingly send him up.

Jamie Hornsby plays Maurice, Belle’s inventor father, subtly conveying his eccentricity, bring a warmth to his fatherly love for belle and finding hope and strength against all odds in his desire to get his daughter back from the clutches of the Beast.

Nicholas Winter, as Cogsworth, the clock, Matthew Prime, as Lumière (light), the candelabra, Monica Brogden, as Babette, the duster, Sarah Brideson, as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, Zac Moore, as Chip, her son the teacup, and Amelia Holds, as Madame de la Grande Bouche (of the big mouth), the wardrobe, are the Beasts servants and companions in his castle. They have all been well cast in their characters and give some convincing and committed performances in their unusual roles coupled with some great interaction between them as an ensemble.

There is also much good work from those in the smaller roles and a tight, well rehearsed and disciplined ensemble offering superb chorus singing, individual vocals and great dancing. The cast is too large to single out every person by name, even though every one of them deserves it.

Patrick Lim, his cast, his production team and his crew have worked very hard and creatively and thoroughly deserve all of the success that they have had with this excellent production.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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