Saturday, December 02, 2017

Beauty and the Beast - cheesy 1980s rock opera at Lyric Theatre until 6 January

There’s something for everyone at the Lyric Theatre’s kids show Beauty and the Beast this Christmas.

Children will relate to the madcap Theo, a job juggling single Dad, played by Mark Dugdale who makes up songs about pizza and has the energy, cheese and chutzpah of a character straight out of a CBeebies show.

Older folk will appreciate the lyric from the 1980s that pepper the script (“I’d do anything for you Dad, but I won’t do that”) and the soundtrack into which composer Katie Richardson has channelled the rock pop hits that may have soothed her to sleep in her cot. Watch out for the influence of Grease, Beach Boys, George Michael and The Communards amongst the rock and pop tracks.

Rock star The Beast (played by Ross Hoey and modelled on Meat Loaf) is the furry-legged creation of his monstrous and all-controlling music management diva Shazza (Orla Gormley). His speaking voice is deep and distorted. Her outfits are straight out of Flash Gordon with sci-fi headpieces that local milliners will want to copy of the Christmas party scene, and protruding hips that might be all the rage on next year’s Belfast Fashion Week catwalk if anyone wants to pick up Diane Ennis’s designs.

Charlotte McCurry plays Bella, a young woman who is worried about her father’s workaholic behaviour. She reluctantly accepts a job as executive assistant to The Beast, quickly rubbing up against his brusque manner while slowly uncovering the star’s softer and more mellow side.

Electric guitars, drums, and heaps of bass at times drown out the words being sung live on stage. But when the voices break through, there’s a richness to the performances from the cast of four.

The Beast has had a year-long dry spell, unable to compose any new hit songs. Bella lost her own passion for singing with her Mum’s passing. As the petulant star tholes towards his back-chatting assistant, the pair’s duets (including “Maybe all I need’s a muse”) are among the most electric moments of the show.

Derek O’Connor and Trevor Colgan have rustled up a script that echoes a simplified version of the 1740’s French fairy tale and explores whether The Beast can be rescued from his malaise, and whether Bella can find her place in the world.

The three and four-handed power ballads near the end of the second half certainly help the performance belt its way towards the high energy finale. “Shout Out Stand Tall” was also a musical success that showcased McCurry’s talent.

The stage hands who use elbow grease to move Ciaran Bagnall’s rotating set deserve a curtain call of their own. The frequency with which the circular platform revolves does, however, become an intrusive distraction from the actors’ performance.

Beauty and the Beast doesn’t take itself too seriously. Humour pervades the choreography, costumes, dialogue and lyrics (“You’re the macaroni to my cheese”). A pizza slice and a stack of remotely controlled pizza boxes dance around the stage in one early number. In a production that is not afraid of celebrating the bizarre and the kitsch, director Paul Boyd has thrown a lot at the production and, to his credit, most of it works.

I’m not sure that Belfast has ever had a rock opera Christmas show before, and I’m not convinced that five year olds will get everything that’s going on (any more than they would at a traditional pantomime with content designed to go over their innocent heads). But there is plenty going on, it’s clean, it’s funny, it’s colourful, it’s in tune, and the powerful soundtrack easily masks just about every cry, shout and noisy sweetie wrapper that a young audience can throw at it. That’s quite an achievement.

Beauty and the Beast continues at the Lyric Theatre until 6 January.

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