Book by Linda Woolverton
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Directed by Casey White
Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Theatre to 23 March
Reviewed by Len Power 7 March 2019
Based on the classic French fairy tale, a musical ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was first released as an animated film by the Walt Disney company in 1991. In 1994 it opened on Broadway as a live musical with all eight songs from the animated film and an additional musical number which had been cut from the motion picture.
Original songwriter Alan Menken composed six new songs for the production with lyricist Tim Rice, replacing Howard Ashman who had died during production of the film. A huge hit on Broadway, the show ultimately ran for 13 years. The original Australian production of 1995 had a young Hugh Jackman playing the leading role of Gaston.
Canberra Philo’s director, Casey White, has given the show an epic production with a huge cast of enthusiastic performers and strong production values.
Ian Croker’s set design is complex and spectacular and serves the production very well. The costumes designed by Heather Palazzi have the right fairy tale quality for the villagers and her designs for the castle staff who are changing to inanimate objects is particularly well done.
Leading the cast in a stand out performance is Charlotte Gearside as Belle. She is totally endearing as the sensitive heroine and sings her role with passion and great beauty. Liam Jones as her oafish suitor, Gaston, is physically well-suited to the role and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of his character. However, his singing of the role was not up to the demands of the score.
Lachlan McGinness gave an uneven performance as the Beast. It was hard to engage with his character as his facial expressions were obscured by his long hairstyle and frequently looking down at the floor rather than at the audience. He should command the stage with his big song at the end of the first act, ’If I Can’t Love Her’, but his vocal ability was not strong enough to make this song the showstopper it should be.
There was good work by all of the other principals in the show, including Pat Gallagher as Belle’s father, Maurice, Pippin Carroll as Lumiere and Tina Robinson as Mrs Potts, who sang the title number of the show with great sensitivity. Sarah Bevan, Meaghan Stewart, Glenn Brighenti, Jacqueline McIntyre and Gabriella Heron also gave finely drawn characterisations.
The large chorus sang well and performed Madelyn White’s simple but appropriate choreography very nicely, especially the spectacular, ‘Be Our Guest’ number, which stopped the show.
Musical director, Caleb Campbell, obtained a fine sound from the orchestra and the cast. The sound seemed over-amplified for some of the singers, making it difficult to hear their lyrics clearly. Lighting design by Carl Makin gave the show a compelling atmosphere. While the scene changes are complex they still need some tightening in relation to the lighting cues and cast getting into place quicker.
This is a very entertaining production of a charming musical that should delight audiences young or old.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.