Beauty & the Beast – Riverside Theatre Review by Rose Niland

BelleMother, daughter and granddaughter were transported to the magical world of fairy tales and one of the most beautiful love stories ever told.

My trio of generations shared the enchantment and sheer joy of a narrative that is universal in character and pivotal in our literary heritage.

We had a journey of pure bliss and entertainment relishing the magnificent delights of the Packemin Production of Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is a traditional fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Bardot de Villeneure and first published in 1740.

The Academy Award winning animated feature film created by Disney in 1991 was based on this traditional French fairy tale. In 1994 the Broadway musical smash hit, built on Disney’s film, premiered and ran for thirteen years.

This highly successful musical was performed at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta located on the banks of the Parramatta River.

The Theatre was charged with the excitement of children and adults’ anticipating what was beyond the rich red velvet curtain. Many little girls were dressed in the yellow sparkling gown synonymous with Beauty.

The lights dimmed and the magical mood was cast by the beautiful sounds of the Overture and Prologue from the Orchestra conducted by the Musical Director, Peter Hayward.

Gaston and Silly GirlsThe music by Alan Menken and the lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are at the pinnacle of their genre

The curtain rises and we are taken to that enduring and wondrous fairy tale beginning ‘once upon a time’… A haggard old woman appears on stage and asks a conceited, spoilt, selfish young man for a little kindness. He arrogantly declines to offer her assistance and the magic unfolds.

The old lady mysteriously changes into a beautiful young women and the young man is shamed by his actions.

He is reminded of the moral within the tale, that beauty comes from within and he must learn a hard lesson.

He is changed into a beast and he must open his heart to love and be loved in return within a certain time. He is given a miraculous red rose that wilts with time.

The gruesome Beast [Scott Irwin] believes it will take a miracle for someone to fall in love with him.

Who could love a Beast?

He sinks into deep despair and becomes a recluse in his castle. His voice through out the performance is gloriously eloquent and is enhanced by his delicate feel for dramatic timing.

We are then introduced to Belle [Kelsi Boyden] a beautiful, highly principled and wise young woman.

Belle 2Her costume was simple and this added to the sweetness of her character. Her enchanting singing and poised presence on the stage was charming and belied the fact she still attends Newtown High School.

A star of the future was before our eyes and ears.

The village scene was created by a wonderful backdrop that captured long ago and drew the audience into its town square.

A large cast of children and adults was assembled on stage and the dynamic of the choral voices emanated the spirit of the musical.

Detailed creative and very successful props appeared throughout the production. I loved the book vendor’s old fashioned cart.

The influence of books was a recurring theme in the production and a powerful reminder of the contentment and solace that comes from reading.

Gaston [Danny Folpp] is not a lover of books. Indeed, he launched on stage as a handsome, debonair, arrogant, vain and conceited young villain.

He wants Belle to be his wife and she is not seduced by his boastful and shallow display of masculinity. Declining his proposal of marriage provokes Gaston to seek revenge later in the story and to win her at any cost.

Gaston and Lefou-620x413His voice was rich, enunciation clear and he had a beautiful tonal quality that was very popular with the audience. Danny’s portrayal of Gaston was a highlight of the show and gave much comic relief.

Belle’s Pa Pa was an eccentric inventor who asked the question. “Am I odd”? The value of individuality, being unique and different was central to the strong messages of the fairy tale. Ultimately Pa Pa was imprisoned in the Beast’s castle and only released in exchange for Belle becoming the hostage.

The characters that lived in the castle were also under a spell, no longer human but objects within the castle.

The characterizations were superbly realized through dazzling acting, artistic costumes and striking effervescent singing.

BeastThe Costume Designer, Cassandra Pascoli had fashioned outstanding designs that permeated the production with style and a feast of visual pleasures.

In particular the teapot creation for Mrs Potts and the appearance of her son, Chip, as only his head rising out of the cup on the table. A stroke of mastery that was intriguing to the audience.

Mrs Potts [Donna Lee], Cogsworth [Adam Scicluna], Lumiere [David Tucker] and the other members of the household conspired to trigger a romance between Belle and the Beast.

Cogsworth and Lumiere

The nuances of characterization and dramatic timing in all of the household performers evoked pathos and humour.

Madame De La Grand BoucheThe finale fittingly restored the Beast, love was victorious and justice prevailed.

A happy ending left the audience enthralled as red rose petals cascaded and life and love triumphed.

I was transported to the awe and wonder of childhood.

I felt a glow within that only comes from watching a magical musical that captured the beloved tale coupled with music and lyrics that enriched the story with engaging sounds.

The theatrical production valued the essence of the narrative and the lyrics and music were integral in its telling.

Rose Niland NSW Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

Packemin Production

Beauty and the Beast

Riverside Theatre

Parramatta

Sited in a major business district in Greater Western Sydney, the Riverside Theatre is the largest venue within the Theatre complex and it offers level admission and space for wheelchairs.

Public transport by train, ferry or bus makes for convenient access.

Images: courtesy Packamin Productions and Riverside Theatre

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