Post-pandemic, Australia has been fortunate enough to have some spectacular musicals touring the country, with nary a poor option within the mix. Musicals created by Disney Theatrical Productions have been among them, from their latest Broadway debut Frozen the Musical to the music-laden joy of Mary Poppins the Musical (Albeit toured by another company). Now in 2023, Disney Theatrical Productions Australia has commenced a new Australian tour of Beauty and the Beast the Musical, the first Disney Film to Musical adaptation which was unleashed on Broadway in 1994 and was first performed in Australia almost three decades ago in 1995. With their recent productions, Disney has been noteworthy for sprinkling a dazzling amount of stage magic and “Disney Magic” on each show, ticking many boxes when it came to stagecraft. But does their inaugural musical still stand out among the crowd? Read on to find out.
Like other Disney Theatrical Productions musicals, while this show can be enjoyed by fans of all ages, Beauty and the Beast the Musical is not just a simple recreation of what was first presented in the 1991 animated feature film. Instead, it has a slightly more mature tone, with added complexity to the narrative and banter between the characters, which makes it a more enriching experience for those like myself who grew up watching the film and are now after a more sophisticated experience. In essence, the musical is a delight for kids while serving as arguably the definitive rendition of Beauty and the Beast for adult audiences.
That said, at the end of the day, it is still Beauty and the Beast. While there are some changes made in the adaptation process, at its core it follows much closer to the series of events that take place in the film, compared to Disney’s current-day musicals which typically add new subplots, happenings or characters. This is not necessarily to the musical’s detriment. As with other animated feature films from Disney in the early 90s such as Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (both of which have received their respective musical adaptations), they focus on positive messages about the importance of inner beauty compared to the “Prince Charming” shtick that was so heavily propagated by media in eras past. It uses related tropes to deliver an experience that balances the comedic elements and key takeaways well, and while not flawless as will be discussed a little later, delivered a narrative-driven experience that was enjoyable from the opening moments to the final curtain call.
The cast, particularly the lead, is one of the highlights of Beauty and the Beast the Musical. I was working at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre when Shubshri Kandiah made her professional leading role debut as Jasmine in Aladdin the Broadway Musical mid-way through its Brisbane season. I attended one of her earlier performances and was amazed at how this relatively new graduate from Queensland Conservatorium was able to perform as if she had decades of experience under her belt already. Her roles in major musicals have often seen her portraying ‘Princesses’, such as Jasmine (Aladdin the Musical) and Ella (OA & Crossroad Live’s 2022 production of Cinderella), and now returning for Disney’s 2023 – 202? production of Beauty and the Beast. While I can’t help but wish to see her tackle a somewhat different role, there is no denying that she nails the role of Belle. She portrays the intelligent, strong-willed, empathetic, and resilient nature of the character effortlessly. Her on-stage elocution is also top-notch, being able to showcase the different facets of her character’s personality while not being incomprehensible at any moment.
The other members of the principal cast also nail their roles. Rohan Browne as Lumiere encapsulates the charms of the French candlestick, and paired up with Gareth Jacobs as Cogsworth, it is clear the two have incredible chemistry together. Brendan Xavier as Beast was also a superb casting decision, being able to tackle the multifaceted role and deliver a memorable experience. Continuing with duos with excellent chemistry together, Jackson Head as Gaston (The fabulous understudy on the night) and Nick Cox as Le Fou encapsulate their character’s personalities individually and together so perfectly. They delivered one of the more physically intensive songs with perfection, and along with the ensemble cast, showcased impeccable pitch and physicality. Rodney Dobson is a staple in the Australian musical theatre industry, often portraying older male characters. His impressive performance demonstrates why Disney sought him out; he truly immerses himself in his roles.
Jayde Westaby as Mrs Potts, who performs the iconic song Tale As Old As Time genuinely brought a tear to my eye, and encapsulates the role of the older and wiser teapot well, while also having more than a couple of laugh-out-loud worthy moments in the show. Hayley Martin and Alana Tranter as Babette and Madame respectively round up the principal cast, and again, do their characters justice. During the performance I attended, arguably the biggest applause of the night was afforded to Romeo Angelkovski, who is one of the four young boys portraying Chip in this musical. The character is an adorable one, and I would highly recommend not looking into how the costuming for his character is done. It is no “flying magic carpet” level secret, but getting to enjoy the magic of his costume was a major source of wonder to me while watching this production.
Since Beauty and the Beast was a musical animated feature film, one would expect the transition to a stage musical to feature both familiar and brand-new songs – and this assumption would be correct. Returning songs have received a few tweaks to their arrangements to make them suit the stage better, in addition to new songs created by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice that also blend well with the tones and events of the narrative. Overall, the music is wonderful, and coupled with amazing choreography takes some of the more iconic songs to the next level. But, while this works in many ways, I felt that two of the iconic songs – Gaston and Be Our Guest could have been implemented differently. The songs are flashy, incredibly well received and help define the characters of the show well, but they effectively grind the story to a halt a wee bit too long – especially being almost next to each other in the musical, pretty much separated by a reprise of Gaston. However, this is a minor qualm, as the audience immensely enjoyed this pinnacle of musical choreography and performance, even though it meant that Act 2 had to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of storytelling.
From the beginning, Disney has had this ability to portray their non-human characters in ways that don’t break the immersion of their shows while also integrating human actors into the roles. With The Lion King the Musical they introduced next-level costuming to depict the cast as the lions, hyenas and other animals, while with Frozen the Musical, they incorporated puppetry into the role of Olaf. With Beauty and the Beast the Musical, costumes and actors alike do a lot of work in convincing us that they are the furniture they represent. Outside of an unfortunate costume mishap for Cogsworth during the first on-stage appearance of Cogsworth (which was handled in a non-immersion-breaking way), the costuming was top-tier. Lumiere for example wore a three-pronged candlestick costume with the ability to form fire out of his hands, Mrs Potts’ arms were kept in the shape of a teapot while Madame was a full-on chest of drawers. On the human side of the cast, they stay rather faithful to the animated series, with characters like Belle, Gaston and Maurice donning their iconic garbs throughout the show.
Even for a show that next year celebrates its 30th anniversary of touring the world, the set design is impressive and makes great use of techniques that still stand up today, including forced perspective props that are so impactful, digital effects and techniques that are not too overpowering, and incredible use of lighting to have the cast and other key focal points stood out and it was always clear where your gaze should be. Not to the scale necessarily of other modern recent Disney musicals, but combined with costuming, choreography and everything else – pulls its weight in immersing viewers in the tale.
Offering spellbinding stagecraft and emotional depth, Beauty and the Beast the Musical captivates and transports audiences into its timeless tale. With excellent casting, its combination of iconic songs with a twist and brand new music, and impressive set designs – I see the musical adaptation as a definitive version of Beauty and the Beast for adult audiences, while also being an enjoyable experience for younger audiences (and the young at heart). A few small issues namely around the pacing of the first Act were present, but outside of a few small changes, this proved to be a dazzling night at the theatre.
With its enchanting melodies, bewitching performances, and a tale as old as time that still captures the heart, Beauty and the Beast the Musical is a gem that not only started Disney on its theatrical adaptation journey but continues to sparkle brightly in the company’s vault of theatrical magic.
Beauty and the Beast the Musical – Sydney Season Information
Beauty and the Beast the Musical is currently performing at the Sydney Capitol Theatre, having commenced performances last month. Performances are available to book through until Christmas Eve 2023, with more sessions to potentially be announced. For up-to-date ticketing information and to book tickets, visit the show’s official website.
This production is only confirmed to be performing in Sydney as of writing, but additional seasons are typically announced months into a show’s premiere season – so expect news (if any) to come out in the following months.
I would like to acknowledge Disney Theatrical Productions Australia and the Beauty and the Beast the Musical publicity team at The Peach and Pineapple Co for arranging tickets to attend the performance.