Wednesday, October 20, 2004

On the Record (Playhouse Square Center)

Disney's ‘ON THE RECORD’ a crowd pleaser at the Palace

When theatre-goers think Disney, they imagine amazing special effects (think the huge animal puppets in ‘LION KING’), lush sets and costumes (imagine ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’) and pageantry (consider ‘AIDA’). Well, none of these are present in the newest Disney stage creation, ‘ON THE RECORD.’ What is displayed are 64 of the most beloved songs ever written, music that has been showcased during the past 75 years in Disney created films and theatrical productions. Songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from ‘MARY POPPINS,’ “Colors of the Wind” found in the animated film ‘POCAHONTAS, “When I See an Elephant Fly” from ‘DUMBO,’ “You Got a Friend in Me” which was featured in ‘TOY STORY,’ and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the wonderful message-oriented song from ‘PINOCCHIO.’

Those expecting a full-scale Disneyesque production might be disappointed, but once they switch their minds to accepting that this is a display of wonderful music and not a showcase for sets, costumes and lighting effects, they will undoubtedly enjoy themselves. This was evidenced by the thunderous applause that met many of the musical numbers and the roaring standing ovation at the conclusion of the show during opening night of the show. It was further evidenced by the comments by patrons as they excitedly left the theatre, comments such as “That was wonderful,” “I loved it” and “I’ve seen it three times already and I’m coming back on Sunday.” The latter was stated by one of the area’s premiere director of musicals.

Highlight numbers included a mesmerizing version of “Out There” (‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’) sung by Andrew Samonsky, and the ensemble performed “Pink Elephants on Parade” (‘DUMBO’) and “Be Our Guest” (‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’). The latter was presented with film clips and sung in French, German, Japanese, Swedish and English. “Reflection” from the movie ‘MULAN’ received a gorgeous interpretation by Ashley Brown. “Minnie Yoo-Hoo” from the animated ‘THE SHINDIG’ featured creative choreography. And the duet of “HIGH-HO” and “THE WORKING SONG” from ‘SNOW WHITE’ brought roars of approval from the sold out audience. “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” (‘ARISTOCATS) was another choreographic and performance winner.

Robert Longbottom, who served as both director and choreographer not only displayed a strong creative bent, but also a wise selector of talent. The cast was outstanding. There wasn’t a weak link in the unit.

Ashley Brown is both beautiful and talented. She is a casting director’s dream. Think Belle in ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEST,’ think a living Snow White. She makes a presence each time she sings, smiles and lights up the stage. Remember her name, you’ll be hearing it again as she rises to the top of the Broadway heap.

Handsome, cocky, Andrew Samonsky was her equal. He of ripped body, dazzling smile, wonderful singing voice, and strong acting talents had the teenage girls in the front row screaming for more and, a female senior citizen behind me moaning, “He’s just adorable.” His version of “I Won’t Say” from ‘HERCULES’ was compelling.

Emily Skinner as the “mature” female in the cast, has a strong voice, much in the mode of Barbara Cook who has made singing Disney songs her career. She was nicely balanced by Brian Sutherland as the other senior member of the cast.

The supporting quartet of Meredith Inglesby, Andy Karl, Tyler Maynard and Keewa Nurulah are super dancers and singers.

With all this said, issues arise. The local production is the world premiere. Forever, it will be noted that on November 9 ‘ON THE RECORD’ previewed in Cleveland. Will that notation be met with a long run on Broadway, following an extended road trip? Will Broadway audiences be willing to pay big bucks to see a contrived plot show driven by strong singing and dancing, but no impressive set or visual gimmicks? Will the fact that ‘ON THE RECORD’ doesn’t fit past Disney molds be a detriment? Since the show is obviously not aimed at children, many of whom aren’t familiar with the songs and want “action,” can eight very talented singers and dancers be enough to hold their attention? Will the producers decide that they need to add more traditional Disney to the format and junk this version and rewrite and restage to give the audience what they expect? Only time will tell.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘ON THE RECORD’ IS AN AUDIENCE PLEASER. Only a sour faced cynic wouldn’t be delighted by the talent and music of ‘ON THE RECORD.’ Only time will tell whether it can catch on to be another in the long line of Disney hits. Because of the format, the odds are against it, but whoever expected a show with the title of ‘URINETOWN’ to be a smash hit, or a musical about women going through menopause to light up theatres?