A guest review from Frances Hall with a four star rating. Given this fine company's history I am not surprised. Clearly I missed a treat. Much better than the horseracing results from York. Roy Hall
Beauty and the Beast
Disney musicals are not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think Mr Hall probably made the right decision to opt out of this one, purely from the point of view that he is much more inclined towards the gritty realism of a ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘West Side Story’ than this sweet and tender adaptation of the popular children’s love story. However, he did miss another stunningly produced offering from this talented group of youngsters. Being a director of musicals myself, I appreciate just how much planning and expertise Lucy O’Hare and her production team must put in before she embarks on her two week Summer School productions. Nothing is left to chance. The set is carefully conceived and the means to construct it in place; the technical crew, some of the best available in the area, are booked and primed; the Musical Director, Graham Thomson, with hand-picked orchestra, is ready to teach complex harmonies; Lucy’s mother Gaye is designing and making costumes (loads and wonderful for this production!). The list goes on. I believe the principals are auditioned and cast in advance, but beyond that everything happens in two weeks of concentrated rehearsal. And that requires an enormous amount of enthusiasm and solid hard graft. And, wow, what enthusiasm leaps off that stage. No matter whether the part is big or small, chorus or principal, everyone is having a ball.
I went to the matinee and was predictably surrounded by wriggling, giggling, girly girls, many in replica ‘Belle’ party frocks who absolutely loved every minute. They all knew the story, the songs and the classic ‘Be Our Guest’ routine of dancing crockery. Wisely the production mirrored the film as closely as possible and the characterisations kept firmly in the two dimensional, no gritty realism required. None the less Ellie Reay was a charming and beautiful ‘Belle’, with real maturity in her singing, and Alistair Robinson a fine balance of angry ‘Beast’ and lost soul, played with depth. All the enchanted servants were good, although I lost some of the diction from ‘Lumiere’ (Harvey J. Eldridge) and Babette (Abbie Mead) in otherwise fine performances. Jessica Pegram as ‘Mrs Potts’ was particularly strong and sang the title number beautifully, sparkly supported by her tea-cup son ‘Chip’ (Connie Jenkins-Grieg). Cameron Hay was having a whale of a time with his excellent he-man ‘Gaston’ and was ably supported by an ebullient Harry Rodgers as ‘Le Fou’. The company numbers were all outstandingly well sung with some nice characterisations in the background. In the unenviable role of lone adult in the cast, Chris Young gave a touching performance as Belle’s father and would-be Heath-Robinson inventor ‘Maurice’.
Production-wise Fred Rayment’s lighting was absolutely superb, how lovely to be able to indulge in sumptuous ‘Disney’ effects. If I have a criticism it has to be that at times the pace dropped in some acting scenes, and for me I would have preferred that the Beast and the Prince were in fact the same actor, tricky but possible. But, all in all, another in a long line of brilliant productions from Empire Theatre Arts. Can’t wait to see what next year will bring. Frances Hall