For the first time ever in Brisbane, Beauty and the Beast the Disney musical is on at QPAC, and the school holidays provide an excellent chance for the family to catch this stunning production before it heads to Melbourne.

The 1991 Disney film Beauty and the Beast, based on the French fairy tale, was the first animated feature ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. After its success on the big screen, Beauty and the Beast the musical was conceived, and it opened on Broadway almost thirty years ago on 18th April 1994. It was the Disney Theatrical Group’s first Broadway adaptation, receiving nine Tony nominations and one win. Olivier Award nominee Matt West directs and choreographs this latest stage production, which premiered in Sydney last year, leading a phenomenal creative team that includes original composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice. Belle was one of the first Disney princesses written with a distinctly modern twist, thanks to ground-breaking book writer Linda Woolverton and the late lyricist Howard Ashman.

As Belle, Shubshri Kandiah captured the essence of a misunderstood book smart beauty with a quiet dignity that instantly won over the audience. Her two standout solo moments, delivered with powerful emotion, were ‘Belle (Reprise)’ in Act One and ‘A Change in Me’ in Act Two, sung to her father Maurice, played by Rodney Dobson. As the Beast, Brendan Xavier struck an excellent note as the petulant, cursed prince. His rage was all bark and mostly no bite and his Beast was more spoiled than scary, with moments of humour which worked well for the younger audience. Xavier deftly delivered his character’s arc in Act Two, which saw the Beast also learning how to be ‘human again.’ Xavier’s Act One solo ‘If I Can’t Have Her’ was a notable highlight and his vocals were Disney prince perfect.

Kandiah and Xavier made an adorable couple; their scene in the library bonding over a shared loved of stories was particularly heart-warming. The pair’s showstopping moment was their first dance to the Oscar winning title song ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ sung with heart by Jayde Westaby as Mrs Potts. Belle’s appearance on the stairs in her renowned yellow dress elicited audible gasps from the audience. Tony Award winning Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward reached new levels of sparkle, with each crystal bead sewn on by hand. This iconic scene, depicting Belle and the Beast falling in love, was a highly emotional Act Two highlight.

Supporting the leads was a wonderful cast and ensemble, and in this production, the whole truly was greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone will have their favourites, and for me it was Cogsworth, Babette and Madame (aka the wardrobe). Gareth Jacobs was hilarious but relatable as the neurotic and tightly wound head of the household turned clock Cogsworth, and judging by the bows, a crowd favourite too. Hayley Martin played the coquettish French maid turned feather duster Babette with the right amount of chic appeal. Her cheeky dance solo in ‘Be Our Guest’ was also a highlight. Alana Tranter’s vocals resonated as she burst to life on stage as the ex-opera singer turned wardrobe Madame, and her harmony moment with Mrs Potts in ‘Home (Reprise)’ was particularly good.

Jackson Head as antagonist Gaston had major Jim Carrey vibes and brought the house down in his beer hall title song ‘Gaston,’ performed with Nick Cox as sidekick LeFou. Eight-year-old Cru Lee, making his professional debut as Chip, played the cute child turned teacup with a Disney perfect voice. There was not a dry eye in the house when he was reunited with his mother, Mrs Potts, as a fully formed boy.

One cannot talk about this cast without mentioning the ensemble; an often undervalued but essential component of a musical spectacular. This engine room of performers handled all the smaller roles (which were frustratingly uncredited in the program), and I’d like to mention the trio usually known as the ‘silly girls,’ Tanika Anderson, Amba Fewster and Chloe Malek as particular standouts.

The ensemble’s group vocals were phenomenal, and their skills were integral in delivering the irrefutable highpoint of the show, ‘Be Our Guest,’ led by Rohan Browne as Lumiere. Director and choreographer Matt West outdid himself with this piece, and the team held nothing back. The extended dance sequence was spectacular and included a kaleidoscope of legs which were projected onto the back screen from an aerial camera and featured movements reminiscent of Busby Berkeley’s iconic choreography from the ‘30s and ‘40s. In my opinion, a musical must include some tap dancing, and this number delivered the goods, complete with Belle in gold tap shoes. I particularly loved the homage to A Chorus Line, which saw Belle and Lumiere joined by the ensemble decked out in gold top hats and tails in a high kick line. Each wig contained 60 magnets to keep the top hats in place (wow!). The scenic design by Stanley A. Meyer and lighting design by Natasha Katz enhanced this visual extravaganza; I especially loved the ornately lit-up stage border, revolving floor and hot pink bejewelled satin curtain.

Darrel Maloney’s backdrop projections brought Beast’s lavish castle to life, and the animated wolves created some of the show’s scariest moments. Jim Steinmeyer’s illusions created the Disney magic – the prince transforms into the Beast on stage literally in the blink of an eye, and I have no idea where the rest of Chip’s body was hiding under that table, but I guess that’s the point. Music Director and Conductor Luke Hunter led a flawless orchestra through the timeless and magical score, enhanced by an incredible sound design by John Shivers.

I attended the Wednesday matinee with my sister and nieces who were visiting from interstate, and I am grateful to cast members Jackson Head, Nick Cox, Hayley Martin and Alana Tranter who came to the stage door after the show to sign programs for the small group of eager young fans. These small gestures have a big impact.


Photo credits: Daniel Boud