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Review: Disney’s Beauty and The Beast – Sunderland Empire

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Review: Disney’s Beauty and The Beast – Sunderland Empire

I was invited to ‘Be Our Guest’ at the Sunderland Empire last night to see this ‘Tale as old as time’ and the offical Disney production of Beauty and the Beast at the Sunderland Empire.

Disney’s beloved Olivier Award-winning stage musical Beauty and the Beast – has been re-imagined and re-designed in a completely new production staged by members of the original award-winning creative team – and is now here at the Sunderland Empire as part of it’s UK & Ireland Tour. Again for those that may not be familiar with the storyline. When Belle’s father is imprisoned in a mysterious castle, Her attempt to rescue him leads to her capture by the Beast, a grisly and fearsome monster, who was long ago trapped in his gruesome form by an enchantress. The only way for the Beast to become human once again is if he learns to love and be loved in return.

Being a Disney production, and from all I heard to date about the show , I was quietly expecting big things. 23 trucks it took to transport everything needed for the show which included a dress that cost approximately 15 thousand pounds according to an ITV Tyne Tees interview with Courtney Stapleton. So if this was the investment into it, I sensed it was going to be good. However after actually seeing it, I found it to be a beauty of a story and a beast of a production. Whatever I expected it surpassed and more. This was pure Disney magic.

This has to be the closest I have had to bringing the on screen cinematic experience to the stage. To talk about the production of this is the first part, because it was this commitment to the play that ensured this was an experience for the audience. It had special effects, staging that was detailed and grand, excellent lighting and sound, costumes that were perfection. Projections and screens that contributed to scenes and the mood, a changing direction of the beasts voice in one scene immersed you. Flying arrows onstage continued to impress. A wonderful transformation of the beast at the end also was another highlight of the excellent effects on hand. The attention to detail was immense so much so that in Chips role, we literally could only see the head of this child and straight through the tea trolley – where on earth did they hide the body?!

Yes this was a massive and impressive production, but for all the effects the cast had to make sure they were front and centre of this and did they just. Usually I would highlight one ot two characters that stood out but in this show everyone contributed just as much and deserved the plaudits as eachother.

Alyn Hawke was sublime as our beast, roaring with authority, and learning empathy and how to be a gentle-man as he fell in love with Belle. His dominance changing as he fell for her, I was endeared by his change in mood as he sought to seek thre approval of Belle.

Grace Swaby tonight was fabulous as Belle, her character updated for this version of the show with reading glasses, her pinney removed and given an independence and thirst for reading and knowledge to better reflect a woman as a role model to be looked up to. Both actors worked well together and had a chemistry that was believable.

It’s impossible to ignore the contribution of Thomas Lee-Kid as Cogsworth, Gavin Lee as Lumiere, Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts, Samantha Bingley as Madam and Newcastle born Emma Gaffrey as Babette, Liam Buckland as Le Fou and Tom Senior as Gaston.

Cogsworth and Lumiere were constantly funny in this double act, their humour together was unmatched and they naturally bounce off eachother. Sam Bailey was fab as Mrs Potts, a warm and loveable character you could see she definitely mothered them all. Samantha Bingley had that obvious match making feeling inside her, and was cute as Madam.

Tom Senior, playing the irresisitable and self loving Gaston was just as good as he no doubt already belives he was. Full of arrogance and constant references to his muscular form he made this character his own. The villan he certainly was and you just loved him for all the wrong reasons too.

Stand out moments were aplenty and the renditions of ‘Be Our Guest’ were fanatastic. A throwback to the can can era and a little tap dance to go with it, an overhead projection of too gave it a different feeling, it gave the audience a song and dance that was full on, made also only by the ensemble cast that pack it out with energy yet again. Hawkes moment in ‘If I cant love her’ and Gaston’s self titled song also brings a yet another great ensemble piece to us all.

This was Disney all over and again the magic brought to the stage right in front of us. If you get a chance, pull up a chair, relax and be a guest at the Sunderland Empire in it’s remaining time here. It’s one of the best musicals you will see for a long time.

Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland*. (*Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings).

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