Beauty and the Beast Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice

Dates and Venue 6 December 2008 – 4 January 2009 | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Bill Millerd, Costume Design Rebekka Sorensen, Lighting Marsha Sibthorpe Set Design Alison Green Stage Management Caryn Fehr

Reviewer John Jane

t's a classic tale that has inspired other classic tales. The story of Esméralda capturing the heart of Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hollywood's King Kong are essentially re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast.

The Artsclub Theatre's fourth mounting of this stage musical based on Disney's 1991 full-length animated feature has almost become a holiday tradition. Musical direction, individual and ensemble performances, and its technical aspects are as good as could be seen on Mirvish Way (Toronto's famous theatre district, named after impresario Ed Mirvish).

This Beauty and the Beast has a lot of heart. Certainly it's manipulative (after all, it is Disney), but it is mostly due to its wonderful score (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman) that includes its sweeping opening song, "Belle" and the big, glitzy ensemble number, "Be Our Guest" that closes the first act that draws audiences back for more.

Amy Wallis is perfect as the wholesome and independent Belle. Her voice is natural and effortless in her key solo, "A Change in Me." Steve Maddock, who endures almost the entire performance looking like a hairy 'Hellboy' is truly convincing as the tormented beast.

Jonathon Winsby as Belle's handsome, but vain suitor, Gaston along with Vincent Tong as his sidekick LeFou and Danielle Benton, Laura Nason and Melissa Young as his groupies provide much of the physical humour. Winsby takes what is an inherently cardboard villain and makes him larger-than-life. Children may loathe him, but adults will love him.

Support cast members rise to the rigourous demands of their roles and work very hard to entertain. Linda Woolverton, in adapting Disney's animation to the stage expanded the characters of the Beast's quirky servants that renders them in a state of mid-transition between human and a panoply of inanimate household objects. Among them, Lumiere the candelabra with a ludicrous Clouseau accent (Matt Palmer), Cogsworth the over-wound clock (Daniel Arnold) and an affable teapot named Mrs. Potts (Susan Anderson). Kudos to all the 'household staff' for making their physically difficult roles seem child's play.

Alison Green's elaborate fairy-tale set and Rebekka Sorensen's costumes bring that extra quality to an already high-calibre production and if Bruce Kellet's six-piece orchestra played a single wrong note all evening, I certainly never heard it.

Beauty and the Beast is a show that the whole family will enjoy. It may well be that a good holiday show doesn't have to be about Christmas.

© 2008 John Jane