Anna hits high notes to deliver a twist to Disney tale

Berwick Operatic Society stage Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Maltings'Belle - Anna Emmins'Beast - Norman Millar
Berwick Operatic Society stage Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Maltings'Belle - Anna Emmins'Beast - Norman Millar
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It takes a brave bunch toto tackle a Disney classic let alone do it justice. But whether it was the audience’s desire to have their cockles warmed, great performances from all the cast or the all important fairytale magic, Berwick Operatic 
Society ensured Walt would be looking down on them with a wide smile last week.

The enchanting, well-staged opening created the required air of mystery around the auditorium for what was to come. Granted, I expect most of those in attendance had seen the Disney animated version many a time, but with songs written specifically for the musical and a few unique tweaks there were plenty of surprises.

Some of the biggest were the transformations of the ensemble, with many of them quite unrecogniseable. Take leading lady Anna Emmins. Known locally for being songstress Electric Penelope, she lent her soulful vocals to a soundtrack that was well out of her comfort zone. But rather than cower in the presence of Disney she put a different twist on songs such as the rousing opening number ‘Belle’ which got the whole cast in on the act.

Having played meeker roles in the likes of ‘Rent and Sweet Charity’ it was a bit of a shock to see Ross Graham in such an arrogant role as Gaston. But play the part he did, puffed out chest and all. And like so many of his fellow principals, Ross’s singing voice was perfectly suited to his role.

In the week that PJ & Duncan hit the headlines with their unexpected chart success, Ross and Matthew Jenkins, as LeFou, gave Berwick another double act to talk about. Matthew was the perfect foolish foil to the cocksure Gaston and it is hard to believe the show was only his second with the society.

While I’m on the topic of pleasing pairings, I could wax lyrical about Gary Robson as candlestick Lumiere and Bill Shardlow as Cogsworth. From the word go the delectable duo brought a real finesse to proceedings. Their diction, personality and presence set them way above any preconceptions people may have had about this being an amateurish production. Gary was on fine form when leading the ensemble in the flamboyant ‘Be Our Guest’.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ saw Zoe Graham return to the stage after a long absence. Like Anna, she’s more used to fronting a band. But the way she commanded the role of Mrs Potts would have befitted any professional actress. Her sentimental yet assured version of the show’s title song would have melted the coldest corners of Berwick and she had the perfect co-star in Rachael Spain as Chip. Young actors often bring the ‘aww’ factor. As well as having that in abundance, Rachel more than held her own alongside her older counterparts.

An experienced member of the cast, I expected great things from Norman Millar as the Beast and he most certainly didn’t disappoint.

The way both he and Anna dealt with the ever-changing relationship between Belle and the Beast was genuinely touching. The danger was there for it to have been overly schmalzy , but it certainly wasn’t and Norman prompted many a goosebump with powerful solo ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ which brought the curtain on act one.

This was a show packed full of great performances; from Stuart Faed’s sinister Monsieur D’Arque; the Silly Girls; Derek Butler’s caring yet crazy Maurice; Tamsin Davidson’s flirtatious Babette and Sandra Storey’s operatic Madame de la Grande Bouche. The orchestra, under musical director Ron Creasey, was tremendous too.

As directorial debuts go Lisa Summers couldn’t have hoped for a better one.