Finally, we are getting through all of our shows which we have been waiting for all year! Something I have learned over lockdown is to never wait go and see it, make time for the things that you love. Today we were back at the Empire theatre in Liverpool for the two-week spectacular of Beauty and the Beast. This show has been in the west end before stretching back as far as the 90s but I have never had a chance to see it. When Carrie Hope Fletcher interviewed Alan Menken, she said that there was some original music from the show put in which I wanted to try and spot. I’ve got the beloved film and remake to compare the music too and watch out for some new songs.
The show was renowned for its diverse casting and beautiful music which I was excited to see but the leads were off when I saw this production. Instead, Belle was played by Grace Swaby (I think) and the beast by Rhys West (He is the swing for both Gaston and the beast. Best of both worlds. The show opened with the opening performance of Belle with the full cast singing as Belle walked through the town reading her book. Entering Gaston played by Tom Senior, my god this is the perfect casting. I don’t think I stopped staring at his arms the whole show Le Fou played by Louis Stockil.
The opening of the show was more like the film with Gaston trying to woe Belle but with very effective humour added in and poor Le fou being the brunt of a lot of the jokes. Maurice invents an electric mobility scooter which he takes off to the fair as he is not in need of a horse. Meanwhile Gaston shows up to propose to Belle and sings a new song “Me” which suits him perfectly and if he sang and bulged his biceps at me, I’d say yes. Le Fou emerges from the woods with the lost scarf of Maurice leading Belle to go after him.
In the woods the visual effects used are astonishing, closely related to the ones used by the Back to the Future musical. Using the digital background and a projector on a mesh screen they enhance the show so much with the wolf chase showing the castle coming in to shot with very little needed of the actor. Maurice hides in the castle and Lumiere played by Gavin Lee and Cogsworth played by Nigel Richards. These characters are perfectly portrayed with the outfits second to none especially Lumiere who is incredibly funny.
The beast enters not quite in the same outfit as either film but looking spectacular. The voice is amazing and they give so much more depth to how the beast feels and the construct behind his behaviour with a lot more humour thrown in. Belle sacrifices herself for Maurice leading to her meeting Mrs Potts played by Sam Bailey and Madame played by the lovely Samantha Bingley. Belle sings a new song Home which portrays her longing for her life back in the village that she took for granted. The beast demands she join him for dinner to disastrous effects but the whole stage chemistry is very funny.
The next two numbers were incredible. Hats off to the ensemble for these two technical and energetic numbers; costume changes, choreography. Gaston and be our guest are two of the most famous numbers from the show and they are even better live. Gaston was energetic, funny but “Be our guest” Blew it out of the water. The number was a homage to French cabaret shows with can can dancers, ostrich feathers, tap dancing and an amazing sequence seen on the backdrop from a camera above the performers. I can’t tell you how long the applause went on for with Lumiere leading the dance.
Belle tricks her way into the west wing and discovers the rose. The beast scares her and she runs off into the woods leaving the beast reeling at what he has become with another new number “If I can’t Love Her” which I think had some of the evermore music in it. The second half has the same special effects for the wolf chase outside of the castle. I love it, it’s so clever from such simple effects. Belle returns with the beast to the castle and the pace picks up with the performance of my favourite “Somethings there” which shows the beast trying to woo Belle and beginning to succeed. Their relationship was so cute. I love the fact that the show had the pink day dress Belle wears in the scene. When the Beast gives her the library, we understand exactly what the spell is doing to his mind even removing his ability to read leading to the next number “When were human again” which is another huge number. It makes me realise that I might prefer days in the sun but this was very cute. Afterwards Belle asks him to dinner.
Time is running out as the rose wilts and the beast needs to confess his feelings. The iconic moment of the dress reveals on stage. A layered ball gown with silk draping over the shoulder and diamante from her neck to the end. The dress moved beautifully for their dance. The beast at first refused but was yelled at by Lumiere and Cogsworth which was pretty funny. When they finish the Beast lets Belle go to save her father. Enter Gaston (sigh!) for the first time in the second half; for the mob song. This brought on more incredible special effects as they ransacked the castle and the beast and Gaston fight with Belle returning just in time to stop him. But Gaston stabs the beast and falls to his death with incredible lightening effects around the theatre and the music dropped. Then…. the house lights rose to the announcement there was technical difficulties.
The show resumed five minutes later for the beast to transform. Another special effect with the beast being raised in the air and twisted with no visible strings or hoist. The prince is revealed and the spell is broken revealing all of the cast in the human form. The closing number resembled that of the film which was sweet. I really loved this show so much that I think that I will try and see it again before I leave although it will be in Edinburgh next. I loved the cast they were all amazing, I have nothing that I would improve apart for hopefully the technical fault getting fixed. It was magical, funny and original away from the film. Please go see this amazing show while you can!