The chance to witness one of the most beloved fables in history come to life on stage does not present itself often. So, when I heard that Sunway Lagoon’s Christmas musical this year would be none other than Beauty and the Beast, I knew the festive season was going to be an extra special one.
I immediately started imagining how some of my favourite characters, like Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock and Gaston the narcissist were going to be portrayed; how the grand dance in the castle between Belle and the Beast would be choreographed; and of course, what songs would shape the fifth musical production to be staged at Sunway’s Amphitheatre.
This last component had me most excited, as not only will the show feature live musicians for the first time ever, but musical direction from prolific West End director, conductor, keyboardist and allaround charming chap, David Laugharne. Whisked away from West End’s Theatre District, where Laugharne has spent the last six years leading the musical direction and conduction for sold-out shows of Miss Saigon, Avenue Q and Legally Blonde, the maestro is currently writing music for Beauty and the Beast from scratch, adapting the songs to the acoustics of Sunway’s outdoor venue, and will be conducting the orchestra and playing keyboard.
You read right: the music featured in Sunway’s Beauty and the Beast will be unique – and that will raise its appeal among musical aficionados to stratospheric levels. Laugharne emphasizes that the creative process for this production has been a very organic one, and at the time of writing this (a week into rehearsals and a mere two weeks to the premiere), only a number of songs had been completed. Flexibility in his scoring is an essential part of the process, while changes need to be made almost constantly, as new, influencing factors come to light during rehearsals.
His eight-member orchestra, consisting of strings, percussion, piano and horns, are being flown-in especially from the Philippines, where stage musicals are an integral part of the culture. So the question is, what WILL they be playing? Well, audiences are in for a surprise. Expect to hear everything from the title track (and a bunch more) from the Disney movie we all love, to modern numbers from charttopping bands (and even an explosive take on the cultural phenomenon Oppa Gangnam Style, sung by the pompous Gaston).
|CEO Chan Hoi Choy (middle) is pleased with the progress.||David Kolt and David Laugharne.|
I was lucky enough to catch a performance of this last piece during an open rehearsal, and if this number is anything to go by, the musical will be absolutely remarkable. Once again, leading the production at Sunway is the dynamic duo of director Chris Colby and choreographer David Kolt, the pair who brought Malaysian audiences Peter Pan, Aladdin and most recently, London – A Summer Musical. The duo leads the largest UK cast ever assembled for a Sunway Lagoon production, with six British actors taking the lead and eight British dancers joining the troupe.
This will be Colby and Kolt’s third Christmas production and by far the most expensive, clocking in at a cool RM4.5 million. The collaborative effort between local and international talents, the invaluable addition of live musicians and the popularity of the tale itself will make this one of Sunway Lagoon’s most unique and memorable shows. With his customary zeal, Colby confesses that “This is a very exciting time for us who have seen the evolution of musicals at Sunway Lagoon… we will make musical history with Beauty and the Beast. Having live musicians under the direction of David Laugharne, one of the best musical directors the West End has to offer, is unprecedented and very exciting”. The addition of live music will immerse the audience further in the story, with underscores running throughout dialogue, giving characters and stage sets an aural dimension.
As for the main cast – with the return of the illustrious Gareth Heesom (playing Gaston), the man who gave you the hip-hop infused genie in last year’s Aladdin; and Amanda Salmon (playing the Witch) of Magical Musicals fame; plus a host of other experienced West End actors, the lead roles are in safe hands and will have audiences laughing, gasping, cheering and maybe even crying by the end!
You can also look forward to the usual special effects that accompany the theatrics, including light shows, smoky settings and a flying witch, all of which come together to produce atmospherics that have gone unrivalled in previous Sunway Lagoon shows. So celebrate this Christmas together with Belle and her prince and the fantastical characters that make up this enchanting fairy tale.
Don’t be afraid to root for the heroes or jeer the baddies – it’s all in good fun and what musicals are all about.
Beauty and The Beast
Where: The Amphitheatre at Sunway Lagoon, Bandar Sunway
When: 1-31 December (no shows on Wednesdays); 8pm
Tickets: 03 8775 4666