8 June, 2021

Beauty and the Beast // Queensland Musical Theatre

By Anina-Marie Warrener

Presented at Twelfth Night Theatre by a talented ensemble from Queensland Musical Theatre, Beauty and the Beast is something truly spectacular. From the moment the first note of the iconic overture sounds, the audience is enraptured. With a big musical cast, stunning choreography and elaborate costumes, Beauty and the Beast is the perfect show to declare that theatre is back!

The set design by Deian Ping and Gerard Livsey is bursting with all the staples an audience would expect from a fully staged community theatre musical production. Complete with cardboard stage trees, a bed on wheels and a staircase leading to the tower of the infamous “West Wing”. Set pieces seem to appear and disappear seamlessly and a projected backdrop sets up each scene. Occasionally the backdrop seems to wave in the wind breaking the illusion ever so slightly, but the overall design of the set makes this only a very minor distraction. The props are fabulously creative. Maurice’s invention is particularly stunning and adds a whole new layer to the authenticity of a show filled with magic and wonder.

Image Credit: Stefan Cooper-Fox

The costumes created by Deian Ping, Belinda Lewis and Renee Milton are everything they should be and more. Every character is flawlessly fitted in their full glory complete with gold and silver glitter shoes for Cogsworth and Lumiere, cheeky faux-leather pants for Gaston, a delightfully grotesque mask for the Beast and hand-crafted costume pieces for the plates. Although the wolf costumes are slightly evocative of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats, it is still effective. Belle’s everyday blue and white dress is sweet and reminiscent of the Disney movie. But when she emerges in her gold ballgown, she is breathtaking, and the audience is simply awestruck.

The lighting design by Chris Cathcart is simple but successful and serves the show well throughout. The flashing storm lights create a sense of panic and tension and serve to heighten the moments when the wolves attack. Occasionally it feels as if these light flashes were cued just a fraction too soon. The effect of combining a slight smokey haze with a see-through veil and dreamy blue lights is very effective in creating a sense of nostalgic memory for the opening scene.

From start to finish, the choreography by Julianne Burke is grand, spectacular, and well-executed. Dance is used to portray several fight scenes such as those where the wolves attack. In any other production this may feel a little kitschy but for this show, it just works.  There were a few moments in the final fight scene between the Beast and Gaston where the choreography felt a little too slow and the audience did not entirely buy into the authenticity. But this is quickly followed by a fabulous group of dancers in blue dresses when the curse is broken, and the audience is drawn right back into the action.

One of the standout numbers of the show is ‘Be Our Guest’ and the choreography in this piece does not disappoint. Even with dancing around a large set piece on a relatively small stage, the ensemble is flawlessly choreographed, and the execution is hugely entertaining. The musical number ‘Gaston’ also features some hilarious choreography that is impeccably performed by the talented ensemble.

For the most part, the sound design by James Walmsley is effective and allows the talented cast to shine. There are a few moments here and there where microphones seem to be switched on a little late in the middle of a musical number. This is particularly noticeable in ‘Maison de Lunes’ when d’Arque’s vocals are lost due to microphone levels. But the harmonies between these three excellent vocalists still manage to shine through despite the microphone hiccup.

The musical direction by Michael Keen is superb and allows the talented cast and orchestra to stand out. One of the best parts about Queensland Musical Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast is the flawless orchestra. This group of talented pit musicians deliver each note of this classic score with precision and feeling. The vocalists are skilled and well-rehearsed, and the music is simply magnificent.

A standout vocal performance is delivered by Belinda Lewis as Belle; every note is perfectly executed. Lewis’s raw emotion and authenticity in her vocal performance of ‘Is This Home?’ is to die for. She perfectly performs ‘A Change in Me’ with polished, professional singing. Overall, the ensemble singing is wonderful. ‘Be Our Guest’ and ‘Gaston’ are both triumphant achievements so much so that at the end of ‘Be Our Guest’ the audience did not stop clapping and cheering until the cast started speaking over them.

Here and there a few of the ensemble harmonies do not quite gel together in the finale but this is hardly noticeable. Occasionally the ensemble energy drops a little in ‘The Mob Song’ as cast members focus on vocals. Anita Parakh-Morgan’s Mrs Potts is another outstanding vocal performance and her delivery of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is immaculate.

As Director, Deian Ping creates a truly entertaining show that brings out the comedic strengths of the actors. The ensemble is one of the biggest credits to this show as they create and build a world that feels believable yet magical. The sweet, talented performances of the children in the cast are particularly heartwarming. As Chip, Tia Godbold is delightfully naïve and cheeky.

As the Beast, Michael Lewis is an excellent comedic actor with hilarious body language and expressions to match. Together with Belinda Lewis they make for a charming pair as Belle and the Beast. Tristan Vanyai as Lefou is hilarious from start to finish. Paired with Byron Philp as Gaston, these two actors make for a truly uproarious experience.  Philp’s Gaston is an enormous success especially when he draws noticeable cringing reactions from the audience during his performance of ‘Me’. Lisa Alsop, Emma Burridge and Samantha McLaughlin as the Silly Girls complement Philp’s Gaston and make for great entertainment. Adam Milton as d’Arque is the perfect scheming villain.

Another fantastic comedic pairing in this show is that of James Rogers as Cogsworth and Darcy Rhodes as Lumiere. These two actors work splendidly together and create some of the best comedic moments of the show with their banter. Robert Carr’s Maurice is sweet and believable, and Kathryn Bradbury’s Madame de la Grande Bouche is everything an opera diva should be.

But a review about this show would be remiss if it did not mention the standout performance of the night; the unabashed and wholly entertaining Darcy Rhodes in the role of Lumiere. Every scene with Rhodes is simply comedy gold as he absolutely steals the show whenever he is on stage. Courtney Pennisi’s Babette is utterly charming and the perfect companion for Lumiere. Rhodes’s vocals, acting and dancing in ‘Be Our Guest’ is an outright triumph and a cornerstone of this production.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is wonderfully uplifting, laugh-out-loud funny and a triumphant celebration of community musical theatre. The timeless score delivered by a fabulous orchestra and immensely talented cast captures the hearts of the audience from beginning to end. Queensland Musical Theatre’s production evokes a magical sense of childlike joy, and it is a must see for anyone looking for an antidote to the post-COVID blues.

Beauty and the Beast performs at the Twelfth Night Theatre until 13 June 2021. For tickets, visit https://www.queenslandmusicaltheatre.com/tickets