Musical review: Beauty and the Beast the Musical, Her Majesty’s Theatre

A fun night out for the whole family thanks to theatrical magic and big budget spectacle. 
A woman with brown hair and a pink dress and an open book on her lap is sitting next to a man dressed up as a beast, with horns and facial hair. There is a backdrop of a library.

My first memory of the Beauty and the Beast musical was one of fear, my whole body clenched up for hours after being terrified of the wolves and Beast in Act One and the angry mob in Act Two. After watching the production at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne now, sans booster seat, that memory has changed into one of wonder and joy. 

Beauty and the Beast is more a visual feast than anything else. It should come as no surprise to audiences, given the success of the movie iterations, that the narrative is simplistic and the character development is superficial. The musical could easily be a trite children’s show, and during moments of clunky and repetitive exposition it gets very close, but the creative team and cast, helmed by director and choreographer Matt West, bedazzle almost every moment, ensuring entertainment for all ages. 

These moments come hard and fast. On the technical side of things, audiences are treated to near constant set transitions, oodles of illusions impossible to figure out, pyrotechnics, exceptionally well-utilised projections and lighting design that enables all of the above to appear seamless and magical. 

The cast do their part with deft comic timing and show-stopping ensemble routines. The latter are undoubtedly the highlights of the production, particularly the ‘Be Our Guest’ number. An homage to the showgirl and dance productions of old, this song brings out the feathers, fans, tap dancing and chorus lines. Each time the chorus rolls around, West brings out something else to gawk at: another set or costume change, another reference or classic musical theatre element, another layer on a beautiful cake. The cast take to these frenetic and challenging demands with gusto. On opening night in Melbourne, the routine received a well-deserved raucous applause. 

For fans of old Hollywood and Broadway, it’s worth attending Beauty and the Beast for this ensemble number alone – you’ll not find a routine of this scale and budget anywhere else in Australia.

Bookwriter Linda Woolverton can’t compete with the energy that exudes from these ensemble cast numbers. This is particularly noticeable in Act One where she has indulged in long-winded dialogue between supporting characters that slows down the pacing.

Shubshri Kandiah isn’t given much to play with as Belle – the character a foil for all the comedic roles around her. Even Brendan Xavier playing the Beast gets to lap up laughs from the crowd with his childlike interpretation of the role, complete with tantrums and stubbornness to rival a toddler.

Neither Kandiah nor Xavier quite manage to rouse emotion during their solo numbers, though the latter delivers the strongest vocal performance of the show during ‘If I Can’t Love Her’. This is similarly the case at the end of Act Two; Belle’s love confession that ultimately saves the Beast feels more like completing a checklist than something heartfelt. Indeed, Mrs Potts’ reunion with her son, Chip – finally a real boy – received more of a response from the vocal opening night crowd. 

Read: Installation review: Lightscape, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

West steers the production confidently, giving space for the slower and more youthful moments for children to enjoy, while also providing enough visual interest for parents and adults to experience the wonder of big budget live theatre. 

Beauty and the Beast the Musical
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Bookwriter: Linda Woolverton
Composer: Alan Menken
Lyricists: Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Director and Choreographer: Matt West
Scenic Designer: Stanley A Meyer

Costume Designer: Ann Hould-Ward
Music Supervisor and Arrangements: Michael Kosarin

Illusion Designer: Jim Steinmeyer
Lighting Designer: Natasha Katz

Sound Designer: John Shivers
Hair and Make-Up Designer: David H Lawrence
Video and Projection Designer: Darrel Maloney
Orchestrator: Danny Troob
Production Conception: Rob Roth

Cast: Shubshri Kandiah, Brendan Xavier, Rohan Browne, Jackson Head, Gareth Jacobs, Jayde Westaby, Nick Cox, Rodney Dobson, Hayley Martin, Alana Tranter, Tanika Anderson, Richard Astbury, Sarah Bourke, Cameron Boxall, William Brougham, Virginia Cashmere, Emily Corkeron, Phoebe Coupe, Emma Dawson, Amba Fewster, Anthony Garcia, Luke Haberecht, Tim Haskayne, Amy Hopwood, Brady Kitchingham, Chloe Malek, Rubin Matters, Ryan Ophel, Bree Stephens, Anthony Sheppard, Luke Ward, Grace Williams, Jared Bickerton, Bibi Brudan, Ronin Cooper Jackson, Zanda Wilkinson, Cru William York Lee
Tickets: from $50

Beauty and the Beast will be performed until 24 November 2024

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00