My previous experience with Beauty and the Beast is quite extensive. My mum actually bought the Disney animated classic before I was born and so I grew up singing it constantly and it has become one of, if not my favourite Disney film, and Belle is certainly my favourite heroine. Similarly I have been lucky enough to see the UK tour of the Disney musical adaptation of the film and an amateur adult production which includes some of my favourite original songs for the musical. Therefore, I was looking forward to seeing this production very much and I was certainly open to seeing the company.
One of my first impressions of this production was the thought that went into the very impressive set piece of the west wing, to the side of the stage. I believe that it was a very remarkable piece of set and, as a Disney nerd, the inclusion of the stain glass was very satisfying. The other set pieces combined with the very impressive lighting, especially in the scene in which Belle trades her freedom for her father’s, made the affect of the story far more convincing. The costumes, especially the Beast’s, Gaston’s and the servants such as Lumiere, were impressive and true to the film. Ethan Cook in particular looked true to the part of Gaston which truly fitted into his acting. The wonderful costumes combined with the sets and lighting made the production feel so much more put together and gave it that further level of professionalism.
Firstly, I was incredibly impressed with the talents of the two leading principles, Rhianna Thomas (Belle) and Carl Fielding (Beast/Prince Adam). I was very impressed by the level of Thomas’ singing talents at her young age of around 14, especially in her solos ‘Home’ and ‘Home (Reprise)’. While during these solos there wasn’t a lot of change in emotion throughout the song, she more than made up for this in her acting during the dialogue segments. I would say that Fielding’s acting talents were one of the most impressive parts of the show. As an audience member I felt that he appeared to not be nervous at all about really going for it in acting the beast’s anger, which made his shift to the Beast’s emotional side more believable and impressive, especially at this young age.
I was also happy to see that the other actors were not overshadowed by the principles but instead they all came together. I feel that this was particularly seen in the castle servants, mainly Shannon Blanchard (Mrs. Potts), Abigail Samuel (Lumiere), Jessica Saunders (Cogsworth), Amelia Warren (Babette) and Isla Richards (Chip). I was very impressed by the signing talents of Samuel and Blanchard, especially as their solos ‘Be Our Guest’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ are two of the shows most well known and most loved numbers.
Saunders really managed to capture the comedic timing of Cogsworth’s dialogue, however at times I felt that volume issues really did not help the individual lines stand out among the louder segments of dialogue and singing. This is the main thing which I felt could have been improved further. Belle and the Beast did not have any issues in this area however I feel that characters such as Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts would have benefitted from a further level of volume to help their dialogue.
This cast and production has a large emphasis on group chorus elements, particularly in the songs. I’ve seen first-hand how close this cast are off-stage, and I can really see this come across on stage. Some people may find amateur productions hard to adjust to after watching a West End show; however I feel that this cast show the benefits that people should be looking for in amateur productions.
This cast do have talent that cannot be questioned, however as an audience member you can really see, especially in the younger members of the cast that ChaosMAD really builds on their confidence in order to sing and act on stage. This translates to the very young members of the audience who were transfixed on the stage, which is a very hard task considering most of the children in the audience were under the age of seven at times. I feel that when you have a close-knit cast who can build the confidence of their younger members and capture the attention of such a young audience, which shows the real benefits of theatre.