Beauty and the Beast
Birmingham Hippodrome * * *
Review by David Faers

Ever seen a dancing toast rack? Or a singing spoon? How about a crooning candelabra? They all turn up quite literally larger than life in a series of Busby Berkeley meets Buena Vista big numbers in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

There can’t be many parents out there with daughters under the age of 20 who aren’t intimately acquainted with the ever-so-sweet cartoon version of the story and its equally sugary songs. So strong is its hold on little girls of all ages that some of them turned up in faithful Disney Store recreations of the fairytale princess dresses worn by heroine Belle.

The stage version remains equally faithful to the cartoon, to the point that bad guy Gaston is reduced to a muscle-bound – contoured body armour bulking out actor Michael Quinn’s natural assets – American-speaking caricature.

Sadly, neither he nor Beast Nic Greenshields managed to evoke true menace in the few scenes where it would have made a huge contribution to the atmosphere and created a strong counterpoint to the softer second-half scenes.

The cleverly conceived wolf chase scenes in the forest surrounding the enchanted prince’s castle were far scarier, while Greenshields was far more successful with a succession of slightly fey throwaway lines and gestures as his rough exterior was gradually worn down by the imprisoned Beauty.

In fact, the funny scenes and all-singing, all-dancing numbers like Be Our Guest and Human Again were the real crowd-pleasers, making up in large measure for the sluggish, mostly makeweight songs that seem to dominate the first 20 minutes of the show.

The clever sets and special effects – especially the body-spinning Beast transformation scene towards the end of the show – are almost worth the admission price alone. And, despite several bum-shifting periods, it’s easy to understand why Beauty and the Beast is such a monster hit.

* Until Saturday, November 4.

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