First released as an animated movie featuring singing cutlery in 1991, Disney’s Beauty And The Beast began enchanting audiences at London’s Dominion on 13 May 1997.
But the show almost didn’t make it to the stage at all. Originally created as a short piece to entertain families at the Disneyland theme park, the idea for a full length musical production only moved forward when a New York Times article suggested that had it been staged on Broadway, the show would have won a Tony Award. After a trial run in Houston in 1993, Beauty And The Beast made it to Broadway a year later, opening at the Palace on 18 April 1994.
It took another three years for Beauty And The Beast to traverse the Atlantic. Following its opening at the Dominion in May 1997, it won the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and ran for nearly three years.
The British cast was led by Julie-Alanah Brighten as Belle and Alasdair Harvey as Beast.
Harvey had previously appeared in the West End in Aspects Of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérables and The Phantom Of The Opera before he took the role of The Beast in the Disney production. More recently he appeared in the multi award-winning Sunday In The Park With George, transferring from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Wyndham’s.
Brighten has gone on to star in productions including Kiss Me Kate, La Cava and Merrily We Roll Along, for which she was nominated for a TMA Award in 2007.
Before bringing its curtain down for the final time in 2000, Beauty And The Beast also provided a chance to see John Barrowman playing the hairy musical lead, back in the days when he was known more for his stage performance than for fighting aliens or offering critical assessments of other actors.
Beauty And The Beast also opened the door for other Disney screen to stage adaptations, the most notable for London audiences, of course, being The Lion King, which is currently in its ninth year at the Lyceum. When Beauty And The Beast closed on Broadway, it was to make way for the newest Disney adaptation, The Little Mermaid, which as yet has not made it to London.