Charming, vigorously performed staging of a classic tale

Beauty and the Beast. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Casey White. Musical director: Caleb Campbell. Choreography by Madelyn White. Canberra Philharmonic Society. Erindale Theatre. Until March 23.

Lachlan McGinness (Beast) in <i>Beauty and the Beast</i>.  Photo: Ross Gould

Lachlan McGinness (Beast) in Beauty and the Beast. Photo: Ross Gould

Canberra Philharmonic Society has done a rather grand job of the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 animated film is the starting point for what has become a stage show, which charmingly reworks the old story that says appearance is not all.

Belle (played by Charlotte Gearside) is unlike others in her village because she reads books and her father Maurice (Pat Gallagher) is an inventor. The marvellously self-centred Gaston (Liam Jones) cannot accept that his courtship of Belle is going nowhere. Maurice falls foul of the mysterious Beast (Lachlan McGinness) who lives in a castle in a wolf-haunted wood. Belle rescues him but is herself imprisoned.

Luckily the castle staff, although they are all slowly changing into kitchenware, decide to support her. They know that if love is acknowledged between Belle and the Beast before the last petal falls from a mysterious rose then the curse he is under will be broken.

There are vigorous performances from Jacqueline McIntyre as the opera singer turning into a wardrobe and from Sarah Bevan as the pert maid Babette. Pippin Carroll as Lumiere is delightful as a man turning into a candelabra. Meaghan Stewart becomes a little too shouty at times but nails the bluff character of Cogsworth the clock.

Pippin Carroll (Lumiere), left,  and Meaghan Stewart (Cogsworth) in <i>Beauty and the Beast</i>.  Photo: Ross Gould

Pippin Carroll (Lumiere), left,  and Meaghan Stewart (Cogsworth) in Beauty and the Beast. Photo: Ross Gould

Jones has strong presence as Gaston, rather too fond of flexing his muscles and leading the villagers in mindless aggression along with his non-too-bright sidekick Lefou (Glenn Brighenti).

Tina Robinson creates a wise and sensible Mrs Potts. On opening night a few scenes were rightly stolen by young Annabelle Moloney (who shares the role with Gabriella Heron) as her teacup son Chip.

McGinness as the Beast has to contend with a lot of disguise until the closing moments of the show but he mostly transcends this and the final transformation is touching.

Gearside’s Belle is honest and open and sings with power and understanding.

Lachlan McGinness (Beast), left, and Charlotte Gearside (Belle) in <i>Beauty and the Beast</i>.  Photo: Ross Gould

Lachlan McGinness (Beast), left, and Charlotte Gearside (Belle) in Beauty and the Beast. Photo: Ross Gould

The ensemble appear to be game for anything, from rushing round the auditorium as the villagers with blazing (artificial) torches in a trope lifted straight from the old Frankenstein films to becoming cutlery, plates and wolves. There’s a fair amount of individualised character work going on and roles like the three girls who (for some reason) fancy Gaston are entertainingly sustained.

Caleb Campbell and the orchestra provide a rich supporting sound from the pit. And it’s good to see the Erindale fly tower getting a work out with Ian Croker’s multilayered set, although it could use more subtle lighting at times. But stone walls and forests fly, the Beast’s castle is rife with smoke effects and tinsel falls from the heavens. It’s really a kind of panto.

It's a long show but a good one to take the kids to and a great one for fans of the original animated film.