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Wednesday, October 15, 2008


(Pic: The splendid “Be Our Guest” scene - the cheese grater is second from the left in the front row!)

Glorious production of family musical at Montecasino’s Teatro. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Disney Theatrical Productions, a unit of Buena Vista Theatrical Group, was formed in 1994 and its inaugural production, Beauty and the Beast, is adjudged the sixth longest-running show in Broadway history, with more than 5,000 performances.

Independently, Pieter Toerien and Hazel Feldman stand for top local entertainment and the importation to South Africa of world-class productions. Together as impresarios/producers they notch up over 70 years in the industry. So when you hear that – in association with Disney Theatrical Productions - they are behind Beauty and the Beast, which recently opened at the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg, you know you’re in for something special.

You won’t be disappointed. It’s a superb production from the lavish costumes, magnificent sets and beautiful lighting to the all-important rose and its falling petals.

Working in association with Disney means you lock into a tried and tested production history where there is rigorous control over design and presentation, thus ensuring that wherever you see the show in the rest of the world, the quality and standard remains at the expected level.

The Disney creative team behind Beauty and the Beast includes composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman with other lyrics by Tim Rice working from Linda Woolverton’s book of the same name. The title song is memorable for its poignancy and sweeping melody.

Jacqueline Dunnley-Wendt and Scott Owen, respectively Disney associate director and assistant choreographer, have moulded a strong South African cast into this story of a young prince whose behaviour was selfish and unkind. For punishment, he is turned into a hideous beast and members of his staff are transformed into a clock, a candlestick, a teapot, a wardrobe and a feather duster. The Beast is given an enchanted rose and if he learns to love another and earns her love in return before the last rose petal falls, the spell will be broken. Otherwise they will all stay the way they are for ever.

As the Beast, Anton Luitingh overcomes the challenges of the complex costume to allow a vulnerable personality to come through. Talia Kodesh is captivating as the spunky and bookish Belle who stands up to the Beast and eventually returns his love. Jonathan Taylor is suitably doddery as Belle’s father – and he gets to drive a fascinating tractor-cum-wood chopping machine!

Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward has produced some magnificent costumes for which she received a Tony Award and these are especially memorable for the Beast’s entourage. Neville Thomas is an utter delight as Cogsworth with Pieter Tredoux as Lumière and Anne-Marie Clulow as the genial Mrs Potts. Katherine Henderson and Angela Kilian, both vocally impressive as always, enchant as Madame de la Grande Bouche and Babette.

Be Our Guest, the extravagant Ziegfeld Follies send-up, with characters dressed up as cutlery and condiments was magical. Whoever would have thought of a cheese grater as a dance costume!

Impressing the most is Jonathan Roxmouth as the insufferably egotistical Gaston – he looks exactly like the cartoon character and his height gives him added stature. Followed everywhere by the giggly Three Silly Girls, he strides around pompously giving his servant Lefou, an fast-moving and acrobatic Sibu Radebe, a hard time! When Belle rejects his advances, Gaston turns nasty and the excitement becomes intense. The part of Chip is shared by several youngsters. I saw Thulasizwe Luke Cruickshank who was endearingly memorable as a teacup!

Working alongside lighting designer Natasha Katz, scenic designer Stanley A Meyer has created a clever and moody set for the castle with vast pillars and an “inside” section representing the West Wing where the Beast lives. I loved the opening sequence in the village when the houses fan out into the distance.

The South African Production Team is headed by resident director Alan Swerdlow with Louis Zurnamer as Music Director and Jill Somers as Resident Dance Supervisor and Alistair Kilbee. Sitting in the audience, you can’t help but be overcome by a sense of pride that we can do a production of this nature in South Africa!

Sponsored by Investec in association with British Airways, Jacaranda 94.2, M-Net and Southern Sun, Beauty and the Beast is currently running at the Teatro at Montecasino. It moves to Artscape in Cape Town in February 2009, before embarking on an overseas tour. Booking is at Computicket. – Caroline Smart