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Sir Tim Rice & friends celebrate the Disney Theatrical songbook

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Sir Tim Rice & friends celebrate the Disney Theatrical songbook

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As snow fell on New York City last Friday night, seven veterans from Disney Theatrical Productions came together to salute Sir Tim Rice.

So who exactly was on hand? Ashley Brown (original title star of Mary Poppins on Broadway), Heidi Blickenstaff (Ursula in The Little Mermaid), Merle Dandridge (Kala in Tarzan; AIDA ), Christopher Jackson (The Lion King), Tshidi Manye (currently starring as Rafiki in The Lion King on Broadway), Josh Strickland (original title star of Tarzan) and Alton Fitzgerald White (currently starring on Broadway as Mufasa in The Lion King).

This salute was held as part of The New York Times 10th annual Arts & Leisure weekend celebration. Which was somewhat ironic, given that the Times hasn't always been fond of Rice's work.

Three-time Tony Award winner Sir Tim Rice at Friday
night's event. Photo by Matthew Arnold
for the New York Times

As Sir Tim pointed out in his introduction to the evening's entertainment:

Of the 7 shows Disney has produced, I've done lyrics for 4 of them.  And, like any member of the theatrical community, my works have been evaluated by our dear friends at the Times.  Just to give you an idea of some of the things they have said about my shows, I've collected some quotes to share:

They described Beauty and the Beast as "Las Vegas without the sex, Mardi Gras without the booze and Madame Tussaud's without the waxy stares.  You don't watch it, you gape at it."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

They said AIDA was "a Disney cartoon pretending to be a Broadway musical."

Ben Brantley himself called the score of The Lion King "unexceptional."

They called King David a "Goliath of a yawn."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But clearly this prolific lyricist & librettist bore no hard feelings against the paper of record. After welcoming the audience by saying that " ... I hope that you'll enjoy hearing some classic Disney songs you already know and love, and that (tonight's event) can introduce you to some of the hidden gems in Disney's stage musicals."

And - with that - it was time for the performers to take the stage. With one of the real highlights of the evening being Strickland's gender-bending performance of "My Strongest Suit" from the Elton John & Tim Rice pop-rock Broadway musical AIDA.

Heidi Blickenstaff, Ashley Brown, Merle Dandridge and Tshidi Manye provide
back-up for Josh Strickland. Photo by Matthew Arnold for the New York Times

 Those assembled in TimesCenter last Friday night obviously enjoyed hearing live performances of such well-known numbers from Disney's "The Lion King" ...

Merle Dandridge and Christopher Jackson sing "Can You Feel the
Love Tonight?" Photo by Matthew Arnold for the New York Times

... as well as some of the lesser-known numbers from Disney's "Tarzan.

Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland sing "For the First
Time." Photo by Matthew Arnold for
the New York Times

Though what really thrilled the audience that night was hearing this stage full of Disney Theatrical veteran perform "New Jerusalem," the finale from "King David."

(L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Christopher Jackson , Ashley Brown, Alton Fitzgerald White,
Merle Dandridge, Josh Strickland and Tshidi Manye. Photo by Matthew
Arnold for the New York Times

Speaking of "King David," one of the more interesting bits of news to come out of Friday night's event was that Sir Tim Rice and Alan Menken recently discussed reviving this show. Which was the inaugural production at the newly renovated New Amsterdam theatre back in May of 1997.

As Rice recalled:

"Alan and I had lunch the other day and we discussed the fact that we really must get King David somehow back onto a stage. I think it's got some potential. There are some wonderful songs in there."

(L to R) Christopher Jackson, Sir Tim Rice, Alton Fitzgerald White and Josh
Strickland. Photo by Matthew Arnold for the New York Times

Mind you, the lucky theater-goers who got to see this concert version of "King David" (which was only performed nine times) still speak fondly of that experience.

(L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Sir Tim Rice, Merle Dandridge, Ashley Brown and Tshidi Manye.
Photo by Matthew Arnold for the New York Times

Which undoubtedly is how the people who braved the snow this past Friday night will talk about their evening at the TimesCenter. Where - for one night only - Sir Tim Rice & friends celebrated the Disney Theatrical songbook.

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  • This was such a great event! I know they streamed it live, but is there a video anywhere to watch now? I'd love to see the performances again!!!


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