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Aspect Inc. - Beauty and the Beast

3.5 Stars

The tale as old as time has arrived at the Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale. Aspect Inc. have produced an enchanting production that devotees of the original animated classic and live-action film alike, will experience great joy watching.

If you have not been to the Shirley Burke before, you will immediately note the rather small theatre space. Director Lyn Laister has done a spectacular job of constructing a show around a cleverly designed set that allows this show to truly flourish without feeling cramped or plain. The use of the space and the set is done in a way that the scenes are defined and clear despite the constant presence of the castle throughout. This is a set that shows great initiative and truly does hold it's own ground. What is confusing is the use of a tiny PowerPoint Presentation (complete with transition effects) that is displayed throughout the show on Stage Left. Whilst I could see that the images (though confusing - why are there woodlands in the castle?) are meant to act as a 'backdrop' somehow, the fact that the images are only about 40cm square and disallow the the ability to light the cyc, means that they only serve to undermine what is otherwise a very solid and well-designed set.

Choreographey by Ju-Han Soon displays a real understanding of how to work in a small stage space. It flows beautifully and there's variation between cast members (not everybody is doing the same thing all of the time). Soon's real showcase is the 'Beauty and the Beast' waltz. A national championship ballroom dancer, Soon puts every other '1,2,3' waltz to this iconic number to shame. It's stylised, it's classy and it's beautiful.

In the title roles, Stephanie Collins and Bradley Marshall are not the strongest of leads. Collins presents a very 2-dimensional, cliche 'princess' portrayal of what is an iconic grounded, feminist role, with a very confused accent comprising of English, American and outback Australian. Marshall has some strong singing chops but his outright Australian, non-threatening vocal tone does not serve him well in a role that is literally called 'The Beast'.

The stars of this show are the supporting cast. Ash Cooper, James Dale, Josh Pratt and Sam Barson are outstanding as Gaston, Lefou, Lumiere and Cogsworth. All four men have excellent comic timing, great characterisation and fantastic rapport with their respective co-stars. Honourable mentions go to the three silly girls: Mollie Williams, Kelly Wilson and Lo Vanguardia who, despite confused accents, have great comedic energy and presence.

The orchestra, conducted by musical director William Yates, handles the intricate score well, but suffers from a severe lack of audio output out the front. I've said this so many times before, badly mixed sound will kill a great show. Whilst this wasn't terrible, the dance breaks really do suffer when the dancers are hitting musical 'marks' that you can barely hear.

Congratulations to Aspect on one of their best shows in years.

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