Theatre Review: Beauty & The Beast delivers some entertaining, family-friendly fun (Glen Street Theatre to 29th September)

It’s a tale that is – by its own admission – one that is as ‘Old as time’. The story of Beauty & the Beast has inspired two-hit Disney films and the stage production has played all over the world. Stage Artz reprise their production to deliver an entertaining and family-friendly charity event.

Stage Artz are a theatre company and performing arts school based in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They have been staging annual charity shows since 2003. This has enabled them to donate more than $250,000 to the Westmead Children’s Hospital. The group began these fundraisers after a student at the performing arts school lost her cancer battle, some years ago.

The production features a very large cast with around 150 people involved. Five-year-olds making their theatre debuts appear alongside seasoned child and adult performers who have been in various community theatre productions. This company first staged Disney’s Beauty & the Beast in 2006 and the production was a very popular one. The current run is playing at the Glen Street Theatre with Stage Artz principal, Sam Neaves at the helm.

Disney’s Beauty & the Beast is based on a novel by Linda Woolverton. The music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and the legendary, Tim Rice. The musical numbers are gorgeous and upbeat and some audience members will recognise a few tunes from the animated, Disney film. An 18-piece band lead by musical director, Alex Ash bring these to life. Audiences will feel like hopeless romantics during the title song and in ‘Human Again’ will feel a visceral empathy towards the characters and their painful longing.

Laura Sheldon plays an endearing Belle, a strong-willed provincial girl and book-lover. When her inventor-father, Maurice (Jim Burns) goes missing, she braves the woods in order to save him. A beast – played by seasoned Stage Artz performer, Max Newstead – captures him.

The beast was once a spoiled prince but he was placed under a spell for his wicked ways. The transformation of the haggard, old woman into the enchantress (Liz Dwyer, reprising her 2006 role) was quite magical. The dance moves choreographed by Natalie Neary were an excellent complement to the costume’s beautiful, floating wings.

The occupants of the beast’s castle are also cursed and are now animated objects. The foppish candlestick, Lumiere (Gideon Blinder) and straight-talking clock, Cogsworth (Simon Greer, who doubled as the production’s set designer) rally together to bring the sweet, determined girl and cantankerous beast together. Assisting them are: feather duster, Babette (Chaya Ocampo); a teapot, Mrs Potts (Miriam Gonzaga); and her son, Chip (Mitch Perry who is a star-in-the-making if his performance is anything to go by.) Tisha Kelemen’s voice soared as the aria-singing wardrobe who made everyone laugh as she riffed a few lines of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by one ‘Federico Mercurio.’

The beast isn’t the only one competing for Belle’s affections. The narcissistic Gaston also vies for the girl when he can pull himself away from a mirror. Levi Gardner gives a very comedic and over-the-top performance while Cameron Neaves plays his trusty sidekick.

The set was effective at distinguishing between the town and the castle; but the forest was sparsely-decorated and should have been more confronting. The lighting would have benefited from being increased, as it was difficult to see the actors, especially the beast at times. This issue was temporarily rectified during ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ when the character poured his heart out at front of stage, thanks to part of the set shifting forward.

The ensemble provided great support during the five big group numbers. ‘Be Our Guest’ was a real highlight. The spinning plates that formed part of the costumes were dazzling. As some of the dancers entered the theatre from the back, it made for one big, inclusive party.

The Stage Artz performers range in their levels of experience. The five-year-olds playing the sweet, little sugar cubes were so cute you wanted to eat them. With such a big disparity in the levels of ability, it would be impossible to declare this show the most polished one. There were some minor sound quibbles, a shaky set and some other raw moments. But these quirky aspects added to the overall charm of the piece. The proud family members and friends in the audience were unfazed and cheered the cast on. The cause is also an excellent one and the standard of the production is quite top-notch; it’s impossible to walk away from the proceedings without a big smile on your face.

Beauty & the Beast is a vibrant and joyous musical. Stage Artz have certainly captured these magical qualities with their enchanting musical, which is fun for the entire family. In short, the company make you feel like you are part of their extended family throughout the night. It brings a whole new level to ‘Be Our Guest!’

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Beauty & the Beast plays at the Glen Street Theatre in Belrose NSW until 29th September. For more information and tickets please visit: https://glenstreet.com.au/

The reviewer attended the performance on September 21.

Natalie Salvo

My writing portfolio can be found at: https://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com/