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Out of the parks and "On the Record"

Out of the parks and "On the Record"

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copyright Walt Disney Company 2005

If we were comparing Disney broadway musicals to Disney theme parks, "Beauty and the Beast" would be Disneyland (charming and heart-warming), "Aida" would be Epcot (more intellectual and not as kid-friendly), and "The Lion King" would be the Magic Kingdom (large, grandious, and a BIG money maker).

"On the Record" falls somewhere in between California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Paris.

The show's got hints of magic scattered here and there but, overall, seems to do more in damaging the repuatation of its parent company (Disney Theatrical) than anything else.

The premise of the show is simple . . . let's watch people lay down tracks for a new album which happens to involve Disney music. We'll have a razor-thin romantic subplot, some "edgy" costumes, and, for theater purists, let's add an air of legitimacy by adding Tony-nominee (for Side Show) Emily Skinner into the mix.

Let me first start saying what's NOT wrong with the show . . .

1) The cast and band. All eight people in the show are very talented. Ashley Brown, as Kristen, stands out as the young ingenue. She handles all the Disney heroine songs in a spectactular fashion. Andrew Samonsky plays a young heartbreaker, Nick, while Brian Sutherland handles the role of a Julian, a crooning musical veteran, with ease. Emily Skinner plays the roleof Diane, an older actress who has some history with Julian.

The quartet of backup singers fill in with energetic, if unoriginal, choreography, and tight Manhatten Transfer style harmonies.

The 10 piece band plays with gusto and does some nifty new things with familiar old songs.

Also entertaining were the show's new takes on old songs. Act 1 ended with a montage of Disney's tongue twister songs run together . . . Something along the lines of Zippa-dalifragalistic-bibbidi<WBR>-hi-diddle-dee-doo-dah.

Hearing "I'm Wishing" as a duet between the female leads and "Be Our Guest" sung in five different languages was just the sort of originality that the majority of the show was lacking . . .

In fact, overall, it's a total lack of context and cohesion that becomes "On The Record" 's downfall. Instead of scenes, the show is divided into Sessions that are usually grouped together thematically. For instance, Session 1 consists of all love songs . . . Unfortunately, Session 1 is one of the few sessions whose frame work really flows together. Session 2 has "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and "Lavender Blue" followed by "When Somebody Loved Me". Such jarring contrast between songs made most sessions feel forced, at best.

Also, if the character descriptions above are somewhat lacking, it's because there isn't much else to work with. Except for an offstage produer, the show has no dialogue and names are rarely mentioned which makes connectioning with the characters difficult.

The show trys to involve us with some odd romantic quadrangle between Nick, Kristen, Julian, and Diane, but only so much story can be told with long glances and out-of-context songs. At one point in the show, Diane attempts to seduce Nick with "A Whole New World" that seems to refer to a entirely different type of magic carpet ride. Later, when he rejects her advances, she responds with "He's a Tramp" . . . It's one of the few times where the show's meager plot is actually advanced by a song.

It doesn't help that there's no scenery or props or costumes used to emphasize the different shows being performed.

After the innovative costumes in "Beauty," "Aida" and "The Lion King," you would expect that ONTR would follow along. Again, this isn't the case . . . every performer and band member wears black, black, and black . . . Costumes changes are nonexsistant except for a hawaian shirt donned by Julian for "Under the Sea" and glittery red outfits which only show up for the last five minutes as part of the grand finale number.

The set consists of three white walls designed to look like recording studio acoustic paneling and a three story platform for the band. And four boom mics . . . four boom mics that are used to stand in for everything from a boat (for "Kiss the Girl") to . . . uh . . . actually they're not used for much of anything else except to provide motion to otherwise dull segments of the show.

In fact, I grew to hate the boom mics. For me, the boom mics stood for all that is wrong with "On The Record." They were unnecessary, cheap looking and served little purpose when they were on stage. The key words there being cheap and unnecessary . . . This show does nothing to advance the Disney brand in any way . . . While "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" actually improved upon their cinematic siblings, "On The Record" just feels like an Anne Hamburger production run amok.

Actually, if "On The Record" were being produced at one of the theme parks as a 30 minutes show or offered as an entertainment offering on a Disney cruise, it would serve as a nice companion piece to all the other Disney offerings provided at those locations. But as a stand-alone piece, "On the Record" should be pulled off the shelf.

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