New twist on tale as old as time

Not content with writing about a new production of Beauty and the Beast, entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE offers the two stars advice on their roles. They probably shouldn’t take it.

I’m worried I may’ve caused ex-EastEnders actress Melissa Suffield to quit her role as Belle. I think it was all the talk about the singing.

The 18-year-old, best known for playing Lucy Beale for the last six years, admits it isn’t her strongest suit.

“The songs are quite good fun but I panic a little bit about it. Any kind of ballad that comes my way I kind of go ‘noooo’. We’ve had to bring everything down because as you can hear I’ve got quite a deep voice and that’s exactly the same as the singing,” she laughs.

It doesn’t help that former G4 singer turned solo artist and stage star Jonathan Ansell plays the Prince who is transformed into the Beast by an evil enchantress.

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“He goes about five notes higher than I do, so we’ve had to kind of adapt it. I’ve nicknamed him The Voice, saying I’m just going to hide behind The Voice for this song,” she giggles.

I suggest she tells him to be a bit rubbish.

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“We’ll give it a go,” Jonathan laughs. “I think she’s being a bit too negative on herself. Her voice is very nice. She’s a bit worried about her range but actually it’s a beautiful tone and that’s what counts.”

Poor old Melissa; she’s just got shot of Phil Mitchell and ends up working with another beast. The character that is, not Jonathan.

New World Productions offered her the role in the touring show after she starred in the Christmas production in Maidstone.

“It’s going to be a laugh, I’m quite excited. I’ve a much bigger dress than I had at Christmas, a big old yellow affair this time. Very heavy, full on gypsy wedding,” she laughs. “And I much prefer the songs this time.”

Melissa hasn’t had the - as she describes it - “oh God I’m not working for three months what am I going to do” moment since leaving the hit BBC1 soap.

Once the tour ends she’s doing an independent film, the British comedy Rough and Ready.

Her take on Belle is a lot feistier than previous incarnations; but Jonathan’s Beast isn’t a pushover.

“It’s a whole new kind of experience for me and the kind of comedic elements are really great to explore. Hidden behind a mask I can also scare the kids like hell so its going to be fun to have all of those elements intertwined in one production,” he says.

Jonathan is also running in this year’s London Marathon as an ambassador for Breast Cancer Care while appearing in the show.

They’re not letting him run in the Beast costume, even though he may come straight from the finishing line to that night’s performance.

He’s also a contestant on the new ITV show Sing If You Can - hosted by fellow former X Factor contestant Stacey Solomon and Keith Lemon.

“If I’m lucky enough to get to the final that will be recorded that evening; so either way I’m not going to be putting my feet up. I’ll be either at a TV studio or on a stage. I’m hoping my legs actually work to some extent that I can even just walk.”

Perhaps they could say the Beast sprained his ankle chasing some villagers and get him a wheelchair?

“Or maybe he could have a stick,” he laughs. “Yeah, we could work it into the storyline.”

Sing If You Can, which will air before Britain’s Got Talent, sees performers try to sing while facing silly and scary distractions.

Jonathan may regret telling producers of the show, which will raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, he’s got a thing about spiders.

“That would completely freak me out, but they said it’s going to be a lot tamer than some of the international versions so I think I’ll be safe… hopefully.”

New World Productions focuses on staging family musicals with pantomime overtones.

Expect topical humour, versions of chart-topping songs such as Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are, classics from Tom Jones and the Monkees plus songs from musicals such as Hairspray.

The idea is to take traditional tales and give audiences - particularly youngsters who may be coming to the theatre for the first time - something they haven’t see before.

Children from the area will also get the chance to perform in one of the shows. The company will be holding two workshops in Ipswich.

They run from 10am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-4pm on April 15 and 16, depending on which performance youngsters can make. Log on to to book.

n Beauty and the Beast runs at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich, April 20-21.

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