With a nine-year-old daughter in my house, Beauty and the Beast is a story I am truly familiar with. Over the years, I have read the book, watched the original animated movie, you-tubed extracts from the Broadway show and earlier this year went to see the latest movie version of it, starring Emma Watson.
Going to the opening night of Hawera Repertory's latest production, Beauty and the Beast, last week therefore I wasn't expecting to discover anything new, but rather to sit back (with my fellow critic, the aforementioned nine-year-old) and enjoy "a tale as old as time" to quote the lyrics of one of the songs from the musical.
The story may not have been new, but under Samantha Turner's direction, the cast and crew have created something more than just a re-telling of a tale, and they take their audience on a truly enchanting journey throughout the show.
Featuring music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice and Howard Ashman, along with some absolutely amazing costumes from Weta Workshop, the bar is set high for the actors from the outset.
Performances that, at times, transport you to London's West End or New York's Broadway.
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Luckily for the audience, not only do they meet it but at times they exceed it, giving performances that, at times, transport you to London's West End or New York's Broadway.
It helps that the show takes place on the Hawera Memorial Theatre stage, which along with glossy programmes and smartly dressed ushers, all adds to the magic of live theatre, from the very moment you enter and take your seat.
Kirsty Bourke's choreography of the show is excellent, and her skill in creating movement patterns for wardrobes and feather dusters as well as the more usual "human" characters in the show is commendable.
When it comes to the actors themselves, it feels almost harsh to only single out a few, as all were very well cast and worked together to tell a convincing tale, however Bergen Raikes' portrayal of Beast was incredible to watch. He used agility and speed to move in an animal like way, crouching rather than sitting on a chair and brought the Beast to life beautifully.
As Gaston, Andrew Berzcak was great fun to watch, as was his side kick Le Fou, played by Richard Baylis.
Andrew's performance managed to capture the buffoonish nature of Gaston, without falling into the trap of making it too slapstick. After all, as an audience we have to understand why the other village girls are all swooning over him so the actor playing him has to get that message across just as much as highlighting why Belle herself would not fall for him.
Playing Mrs Potts, Carole Hosie has a challenging job. The costume is fantastic and could easily steal the show, but Carole is a match for it and has the character down pat.
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When it comes to the silly girls (as they are listed in the character sheet) who swoon over Gaston, it was inspired casting that gave the roles to Deb Thomas, Paula Stieller and Emily Davidson. When on stage this talented trio capture everyone's attention and are among the highlights of the whole production.
Krystal Leuthard as Belle is convincing throughout, and is fantastic to listen to as well as watch. Her portrayal of Belle is nicely balanced, blending unassuming beauty and kindness with assertiveness and Belle's desire for adventure or something more than her village life.
Playing Mrs Potts, Carole Hosie has a challenging job. The costume is fantastic and could easily steal the show, but Carole is a match for it and has the character down pat, as does Jayden Kingi in his role as Chip.
The same is actually true for all the actors playing animated furniture in this production, the costumes enhance their performance without question, but without exception, each actor could play the role in "normal" clothes and still have you convinced they are a candelabra, a wardrobe, clock or feather duster.
The Broadway feel of this show is helped by a fantastic ensemble cast who bring the scenes to life with their enthusiastic, and talented, singing and dancing.
As the final curtain went down and the house lights came on, my daughter and I agreed this production was every bit as magical as any other version we have seen of this story and we would both happily watch it again.
As Belle says to the bookseller, when she is borrowing a book she has read several times before;
"Well, it's my favorite! Far off places, daring
swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise".