Saturday, 23 July 2011

Beauty and the Beast in concert - Waterdale

As a not-so-secret fan of the geeky leading character, I was not sorry to support a friend by coming to this concert version of Beauty & The Beast. The atmosphere is intimate and friendly, with non-allocated seating in an auditorium that seats only a hundred people. By the time I booked tickets, every performance was sold out except the Sat matinee; and it, too, has sold out - a good sign.

There's no curtain, so we can see the orchestra readying themselves on the stage, and occasionally we see a patch of light under a door as people move in and out behind the stage. Two minutes to show time, the ensemble file out, all wearing show t-shirts - looks good, like a Savoynet cast photo. In their neutral blacks they can fit into any scene, but what's more impressive is that they can stay out of a scene without leaving the stage - with no little skill in sitting still and looking invisible.

Above the orchestra, a small projection screen took the part of the mirror and rose and a few other things. There were a couple of additional times when I would have liked to see it used - when the Beast gave Belle her special gift, and we just had to guess at what it might have been. Other than that, it served its purpose well.

The opening announcement was done by Gaston, in the same way Alfred Doolittle did for Scotch's My Fair Lady - complete with plenty of egotistical comments. (Advertise yourself, Gaston. It's what you do best.)

The chorus did an excellent job of carrying the action while focusing attention on the leads - for instance, in "Bonjour" they wore muted colours, while Belle was in the classic blue-white, and Gaston in red; also, any time they were not singing, members of the chorus remained almost perfectly stationary. During "Kill the Beast", typical crowd-conversation staging had them talking to each other; the three cloaked ensemble members spread the word, and everyone else carried it through animatedly.

Belle (Jacqueline Levitas) did enjoy her books, rather a lot. She somehow failed to return one, even when she went to borrow another. Apparently she's such a popular customer at the bookstore that he's happy to give her both books! At least she has the brains to use them, though, unlike the three awesomely stupid Silly Girls (Caitlyn Burt, who also played Babette, and Sarah Kiely and Sarah Burke) - whose greatest trait is to move and act in perfect synchronization in their fawning over Gaston (Robert Clark). Larger than life, with his ego pumping yes-men, he commands the stage. And leader of his yes-men, Le Fou (Anthony Julian), manages to own the stage when it's appropriate too, in his own inimimimimitable way. The two of them with Monsieur D'arque (Alexander Pech) form a fairly devastatingly evil trio, quite... quite delightful. But no threat of lunatic asylum fazes Belle or her father Maurice (Kristopher Brown) - not when they have the mirror on their side. The glow from the mirror is an excellent effect - although I would have liked to see more of the Beast up on the top mirror. He probably wouldn't have been hideous enough to project, though; played by Sam McPartlan, he has quite a decent voice, and isn't quite ten feet tall (sorry Maurice). But he has the trademark roar of temper, enough to scare Lumiere (Nathan Wright) and Cogsworth (Sean Walpole), who spend most of the show either by-playing off each other or getting in trouble with the Master. Still, they do get to order the master around once - "DANCE!" (it's probably the second-funniest waltz I've ever seen) - and I'm still not sure which of them won the one-upmanship contest. Not that Mrs Potts (Emma Fitzgerald) cared; anyone for a spot of tea? And Chip (Phoebe Bengough) was too well-behaved to complain at not knowing what was going on. Ever-helpful servants, they only live to serve and chat - and, in the case of Madame Grande (Bec Muratore), sing. Poor little forget-me-not, at least she still has that opera-singer voice; it's powerful enough to shatter, if not glass, then at least the confidence of the invaders and encroachers!

The technical aspects of the show did extremely well with minimal resources. Lighting (with one single follow spot) and smoke were used to good effect; even using the work-lights for one bright flash. The sound was a little out of balance at times, but most things were audible. The ensemble created some fairly indicative wolf-eyes with pairs of torches, and both they and the crew kept the microphones ready for the people who were going to need them - always preempting requirements, keeping things moving smoothly. Pieces of set were reused in several places, which also helps to reduce pressure on backstage room - which was clearly in short supply. And then a couple of crowning moments of awesome... at the end of "Be Our Guest", a massive pop emits a cloud of tinsel-confetti all over the stage!

Staging was of course simplified down to fit the small stage, but things still worked quite well. The songs "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest" were superb - well sung and well danced, as the first citizen put it. I suppose it's predictable that the leading girl will get my attention, but Jacqueline does have a wonderfully expressive face. During "Be Our Guest", she has nothing to sing, but plenty to act - and her wide-eyed enthusiasm helped to lift the number that bit further. And when she's miserable (when she realises what the beast is demanding of her), it's all written there on her face; but the joy and love that fill her soul later on, when she rejoins her father, are equally visible.

Smoke was used extensively in a number of scenes. (It smelled somewhat like maple syrup, which would make some weird form of sense given that Pancake Parlor sponsored the show!) Can't be good for the cast's voices, but it was an effective look. There were quite a few outlets... even Mrs Potts's spout, which caused several intruders alarm!

The programme states that Waterdale shows aim to provide opportunities for young people to get involved in theatre. This is clearly the case, and is reflected in the staging; several times, the cast were moving around and even climbing down off things immediately after a black-out. Good eyesight does help there; nobody appeared to have any problems with that.

This has been an excellent show, and shows off some excellent performers and crew.

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