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On the Record, Disney Theatrical's new World Premier Touring Musicalis all about the music - and the music is wonderful. Director Robert Longbottom has culled 64 songs spanning 75 years of movie music all produced by the Disney Studios and crafted them into an entertaining musical evening. The show stars the music and lyrics of (in alphabetical order) Howard Ashman, Sonny Burke, Sammy Cahn, Frank Churchill, Phil Collins, Eliot Daniel, Mack David, Walt Disney, Jimmie Dodd, Sammy Fain, Ray Gilbert, Terry Gilkyson, Leigh Harline, Winston Hibler, Bob Hillard, Al Hoffman, Floyd Huddleston, Elton John, Jack Lawrence, Peggy Lee, Jerry Livingston Alan Menken, Larry Morey, Randy Newman, Tim Rice, Al Rinker, Stephen Schwartz, Ted Sears, Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman, Glenn Slater, Carl Stalling, Oliver Wallace, Ned Washington, Matthew Wilder, Allie Wrubel and David Zippel.
The premise for this eight person Musical Revue is that we are in a recording studio and that our talented ensemble of four Actor/Singers and four Dancer/Singers accompanied by eight musicians (all onstage) have come together to create the "ultimate" Disney collection and lay it down, "on the record". The evening is broken up into 15 Sessions, or groupings of songs, orchestrated by the bodiless voice of the Engineer which comes from the sound booth. Threaded through the evening is the barest whisper of a plot - albeit to give the performers some sort of characters to hook into. There is the mature couple who have had a romantic past but are now estranged (Julian & Diane); there is the young couple who have just met and are attracted to each other (Kristen & Nick); and there is the Quartet - the four happy-go-lucky chorus people. Most probably the reason that Chad Beguelin is given credit as a Scenarist and not as a Bookwriter is that there is almost no dialogue between the characters - only actions. The only voice we hear is that of the Engineer who has a couple of interchanges with the character of Kristen.
Though this production is obviously geared to be family entertainment, it is not something that will hold the attention of small children. It is a sophisticated songfest and kids under 11 or 12 will most likely be bored. I almost made the mistake of bringing my eight year old niece, but opted for an 18 year old one instead - who loved it. And why not? As a child she grew up listening to all the great Disney soundtracks of the late 80's and 90's.
It's obvious that Disney has spared no expense, for the set by Robert Brill is simple, sleek and gorgeous. Large white sound squares are punctuated by eight, shiny, silver metal boxes -stacked in columns. Each box houses an orchestra member, and the effect, though reminiscent of Hollywood Squares, is still stunning. Microphones on large, rolling silver stands are used as mics, oars, frames and in other ingenious ways. The performers, costumed by Gregg Barnes are all donned in various black, gray and silver outfits and stand out against the stark white of the set. An interesting innovation that has been added Far Stage Right on the apron of the stage is a black screen where every word of dialogue and every lyric is displayed in red lights. For the deaf, the hard of hearing and those of us who want to catch every word this is a boon.
The voices are all superb and David Chase has done some masterful arranging -especially when he has intertwined songs together, such as Someday My Prince Will Come (Snow White) and Once Upon a Dream(Sleeping Beauty) in one number and One Song and I'm Wishing both from the 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in another. Session 8 has the four leads singing a very mixed up stew of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins), Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (Pinocchio), Following the Leader (Peter Pan), Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah(Song of the South) and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (Cinderella). The joke here that is they are reading from yards and yards of sheet music which keep running out and keep being furnished with more by the helpful Quartet. My favorite segment was Session 4 with You Can Fly! You Can Fly! (Peter Pan), So This is Love (Cinderella), A Whole New World (Alladin), and The Second Star to the Right (Peter Pan), where the white sound blocks disappear to reveal a deep, starlit sky, with the singers standing on moving staircases. It's a great effect. Other great numbers included He's a Tramp (Lady and the Tramp) sung by Kristen and Diane, I Wan'na Be Like You(The Jungle Book) sung by Julian and Nick Everybody Wants to be a Cat (The Aristocats) sung by Nick and Pink Elephants on Parade (Dumbo) where the sax player comes down from his square and plays onstage - the lights turning his horn to a glowing, neon pink.
To keep the evening from seeming the same, some very clever effects are employed. When the actors sing, Minnie's Yoo-Hoo a screen is lowered so that we can watch the 1930 cartoon that it came from. At the same time, while the actors are singing live, their voices have been digitally altered to sound much higher. And when they sing the The Work Song from Cinderella as the three little mice, the effect is hysterical. But the biggest and funniest session has to be Session 12 where as we watch clips of Beauty and the Beast we hear it sung first in French, then German, then Swedish, then Japanese and finally in all four languages.
Ashley Brown as newcomer Kristen is featured in three of the Alan Menken belty/pop ballads, Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid), Reflection (Mulan) and A Change in Me (Beauty and the Beast - Broadway) and she delivers them all with head on, knock you out precision. Brian Sutherland has great charm as the smooth, Julian and uses his classically trained voice with beautiful subtlety. Andrew Samonsky has lots of personality as the quirky, bad boy, Nick and Kaitlin Hopkins as Diane, the steely soprano, sings with a lovely clarity of tone.
Academy Award Winning songs include When You Wish Upon a Star (1940), Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (1947), Chim-Chim-Cheree(1964), Can You Feel the Love Tonight(1994) and You'll Be In My Heart(1999). Then there is the Alan Menken catalogue: Under the Sea (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), A Whole New World (1992 - and Billboard #1), and Colors of the Wind (1995) each of which won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a GRAMMY. The Disney songs which have been merely nominated for awards are too numerous to mention. It's a great evening of song even if everyone (including the orchestra) does come out for the finale in red sequined costumes that look like they were made for a Disneyland Park Attraction. Oh, that's right, I forgot, we are in Disneyland!
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