A real showman – Beauty & the Beast review as it roars through the Sunderland empire

From the huge shimmering sets, transported across the country in 23 trucks, to the booming voice of the beast that resonates throughout the Empire and to the bulging biceps of Gaston, Beauty & the Beast is a true spectacle juggernaut.

The Disney blockbuster roared onto the Sunderland Empire stage for a 4 week run and is already attracting audiences from all over.

The last time I saw this musical was on the London stage many moons ago – but this new production, using many members of the original creative team, has lost none of its shine. West End.

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Beauty & the Beast is at the Empire until February 19

Belle may be one of Disney’s oldest heroines, but she’s a great lady who’s been brought into the modern age: one who wears reading glasses, loves to learn, and has real courage in her convictions.

For the press night, she was played by Grace Swaby who charms like the sensible girl who gets lost in books and longs for more than her provincial life.

Besides sprinkling real stage magic, what Disney does incredibly well is storytelling and there’s a truly believable connection between Belle and her Beast (Alyn Hawke) as their love unfolds. under our eyes.

But it’s a show about more than a pair of star-crossed lovers. The cursed household objects in the Palace of the Beast are a joy to watch with incredible attention to detail in their costumes, from Cogsworth’s swinging pendulum to Babette’s Marilyn Monroe-like quill movement.

Courtney Stapleton as Belle and Alyn Hawke as the Beast

Lumiere, performed with excellent timing and great comedic expression by Gavin Lee, literally lit up the stage, never more so than in the seminal track Be Our Guest which was a visual and auditory feast. You’re almost out of breath watching the dishes flip, can and whirl around the stage in this awesome, 12-minute number that has the flashy elements of the golden age of musicals sprinkled in of a spectacular modern staging.

Lumière led this huge show, expertly choreographed with wit and style – give him his own show!

Meanwhile, Sam Bailey is as warm and lovable as a comforting cup of tea like Mrs. Potts and I’m still trying to figure out how her floating head Chip (played by Manasseh Mapira) managed to fit her body into that tea cart .

Gaston too was larger than life, played with delight by Tom Senior who was a real imposing presence as he made his way around the stage, flexing his pecs with joy. His Gaston number is another theatrical feat as the ensemble twirls and clinks their tankards around the tavern in this boisterous ode.

Cogsworth (Nigel Richards), Mrs. Potts (Sam Bailey) and Light (Gavin Lee)

Unlike some musicals, this is one where all the numbers are big, not that it takes anything away from the titular track that drew audible gasps from baby Belles in the audience as the leading lady appeared in her dress. iconic yellow.

(On a note for young theater-goers, there are spookier scenes at the start with wolves and the roar of the beast, which means this is a recommended show for children aged six and up. You can also run them past merchandise stalls, if you can, at £50 for a mirror and £30 for a doll.)

With a show of this size, so big, only a few theaters are big enough backstage to accommodate it, there’s always the risk of it malfunctioning and just before the transformation stage, a glitch caused a 10 minute break in the show.

The Empire lit up in purple for Beauty and the Beast

Remarkably, however, it didn’t really affect the pacing of the musical which once again swept you into the magic as soon as the curtain went up.

This tale as old as time is one of the biggest shows to be staged at the Empire since it reopened after lockdown and it’s one that is a masterpiece of a musical.

*Beauty & the Beast casts a spell over Sunderland Empire until Saturday 19th February. Tickets here.

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