A tale as old as time comes to life on stage / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney
A tale as old as time comes to life on stage / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney

There are rare moments in theatre where the entire audience lights up and fills the intimate venue with whoops and cheers that wouldn't sound out of place at a football match. Sure, you have your standing ovations for most shows when they come to an end, and the polite claps and cheers when each number comes to a close, but those rip-roaring, extended celebrations that tear the roof off the place? They're quite something for a production to come by.

So, when Disney's Beauty and the Beast: The Musical received not one, but two of those very moments during their performance at Manchester's Palace Theatre, the goosebumps were out in full force and the hairs on my arms were standing to attention. Magic had been captured by this cast and crew, and I was lucky enough to sit as a part of it.

I'm getting ahead of myself. For those who have perhaps been living under a rock, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a young woman called Belle, who lives in a small French village, but has dreams and ambitions of seeing the world. Though the misogynistic Gaston - who every woman in town but Belle wants to be with, and every man wants to be - insists she should become his wife, she's not about to settle for a life of serving a husband in the stereotypical, traditional and downright sexist way.

Refusing his advances, she is seen as an oddball by her fellow villagers, because of her love for books, gaining knowledge and defining her life by adventure, rather than marriage and beauty. But when her eccentric father Maurice wanders off the track in the dark, wolf-infested woods, she becomes tangled up in a web of mistrust and imprisonment after trespassing in the castle of a cursed prince, who is becoming more and more of a monster as the days go by.

Selfish and self-centred, the prince was cursed in his earlier years by a beautiful woman who had disguised herself as a haggard older lady, leaving behind nothing but an enchanted rose. When the last petal falls from this delicate flower, the curse would be unbreakable but, if the prince learned to love and another found love for him before that time, it would be lifted.

Unfortunately for the prince's staff, they also were affected by the spell. We have Lumiere, who has become a candle and Cogsworth who is turning into a pendulum clock, as well as Mrs. Potts the teapot and her son Chip, the teacup. Then there's the dresser Madame and of course, feather duster Babette.

Courtney Stapleton steps into the role of Belle, opposite Shaq Taylor as the Beast, and they are utterly enchanting. Both delivering stellar vocals from beginning to end, they embody the characters they are tasked with playing with perfection. With Belle, there is always a risk of her coming off as a snob due to the dated lyrics of her opening number (little town, full of little people, every day, like the one before). Fortunately, Stapleton is so loveable you can't help but root for her to succeed.

Taylor does a great job of balancing his character's ferocious nature with those at first fleeting moments of humanity and even at times, goofiness. When he needs to be terrifying, he bares his fangs but, we also feel deeply for him as a man who was given it all and knew no better, until it was almost too late.

The man we all love to hate, Gaston, is celebrated by the villagers / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney
The man we all love to hate, Gaston, is celebrated by the villagers / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney

They're not the only pair that serve up a memorable performance, however. Tom Senior was born for the role of Gaston, with Thor-sized biceps and a handsome smile that could melt even the frostiest of hearts. Ensemble member Liam Buckland played Le Fou during our performance, threatening to steal the show at times with his hilarious, over-the-top antics and clear adoration for a man who simply wants to use him as his lackey. It was this pair, along with the incredible ensemble cast, that got the first raucous response of the night after a cup-clinking, toe-tapping rendition of Gaston.

The second came thanks to Lumiere, played by Gavin Lee, along with the rest of the castle's waiting staff, who enchanted all those watching from the opening moments of beloved Disney classic, Be Our Guest. It was the ensemble who shined brightest here, as they delivered perhaps the single most beautiful synchronised routine I've ever seen on stage. Working with one another on a rotating floor at one stage, they were recorded from above as they lay down and projected onto the back of the set for all to see. A true example of bringing the same moment from the classic film, to life.

Lumiere is of course at his best, when with his best friend Cogsworth, played by Nigel Richards. I had to do a double take when Richards first came out on stage; as Cogsworth, he looks like a young Christopher Biggins but, comparing him to the pantomime dame would be unfair. When it comes to talent, Richards is on another level entirely.

Be Our Guest is a spectacular, show-stealing moment from Lumiere and co. / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney
Be Our Guest is a spectacular, show-stealing moment from Lumiere and co. / Picture Credit: Johan Persson/Disney

I must also mention the incredible work put into the role of Mrs. Potts by 2013 X Factor winner Sam Bailey. She looks right at home on stage, and when she sings the titular song, as Belle and the Beast enjoy dinner before a romantic dance across the castle floor, you are whisked away to that magical Disney world all over again. Alongside Rojae Simpson as Chip, the two are admirable. I'm still trying to work out where young Simpson's body was when he came out as Chip atop a kitchen trolley...

Not forgetting Samantha Bingley as Madame, who serves up some of the funniest moments thanks to her 'feelings', and Emma Caffrey as Babette, who is adept at teasing Lumiere whenever she is given the opportunity. I can't wait to see where the pair end up next.

Having Angela Lansbury serve as the voice of the prologue narrator was also a gorgeous touch. She was of course, the voice of Mrs. Potts in the Disney film, so having her open the show really helped to envelop the audience into the magic up on stage.

And what a stage it is. From set design, which included moving parts, to the projections and use of dramatic lighting to elevate the story, you can tell that a lot of money has gone into making this one of the finest looking theatre shows of all time. The Beast's transformation towards the conclusion of the piece is nothing short of breathtaking.

I wouldn't change a thing, and I'd gladly go and watch it all over again.

Beauty and the Beast: The Musical is running at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until June 4th, 2022.

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by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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