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BWW Review: ANDREW BARTH FELDMAN: PARK MAP Delivers a Big, Bright, Beautiful Tomorrow at 54 Below

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Andrew Barth Feldman Creates a Profound Disney Metaphor

BWW Review: ANDREW BARTH FELDMAN: PARK MAP Delivers a Big, Bright, Beautiful Tomorrow at 54 Below

According to Andrew Barth Feldman, (Dear Evan Hansen, Ratatouille: the Musical, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) there are two types of people in the world: there are "Disney kids," who are filled with wonder and joy at the magic of Disney and the Disney parks, and there are "Disney adults," who are obsessed with Disney trivia, who know every fact about every square inch of the Disney parks, and who, left to their own devices, would end up re-enacting the entirety of the Fantasmic Fireworks Show. He's quick to point out that he is a Disney kid, not a Disney adult.

That's a fair enough claim to make at the ripe old age of nineteen. Although, as he proved in his show PARK MAP, which opened on Friday night at 54 Below, there's not much about Disney that he doesn't know. His knowledge of the Happiest and Most Magical Places on Earth is encyclopedic and approaches the level of Disney-savant. In fact, one of the recurrent bits of his show was to ask every member of the audience to write the name of a Disney attraction on a slip of paper and insert it into a Bobba Fett mug. Then at various points during the evening, he would draw a random slip from Bobba Fett's head and start a 45-second countdown clock, during which time he would tell you every minute detail of the creation, history, and experience of the ride in question. He randomly knew the name of every Imagineer, the budget of every ride and its construction history, and even the number of riders on its opening day. It was a pretty cool parlor trick.

But there was method in the madness. For Feldman, the Disney parks were a metaphor for an escape from a life that has seen extraordinary highs and tragic lows. There has been a lot of incident in his brief nineteen years, and through all the change, Disney has been the glue that held it together. In particular, Disney was a special bond to his mother, whom he lost, in true Disney fashion, at a young age. The show opens with The Sherman Brothers song from The Carousel of Progress, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and it leads to the central premise of the show: how do you build a world based on the future when the future is constantly changing? This is definitely not kid stuff. That is an exceedingly profound metaphor for life. Out of the mouth of babes.

There were some wonderful, but not obvious songs from the Disney catalog, "Part of Your World," " Big Blue World" from the Finding Nemo live show, and "Since I Gave My Heart Away". There were also some wonderful non-Disney songs that were pressed into service for Feldman's Disney stories. Songs like "Rocket Man" used to talk about Tomorrowland and "Michelle, My Belle" used as an off-kilter love song to Michael Eisner. There was also a surprise cameo by Disney Channel star, Joshua Bassett who dueted on "Bet On It" from the High School Musical series.

But the best parts of this show were the songs written by Andrew Barth Feldman himself. "Every Pretty Girl" talks about the difficulty of finding the right girl when the choices are so plentiful. "The Castle" is a beautiful love song about finding someone to share a life with. "Am I a Good Boy? is ostensibly about a dog but is really about trying to always do the right thing. Feldman's songs are about important subjects spelled out in a light-hearted and very charming way.

Feldman is supported along the way by his Dear Evan Hansen associate conductor, Jon Balcourt, who manages to make 88 keys sound like a hundred-piece Disney orchestra. The two of them had a wonderful rapport and worked together as a close-knit team. Also kudos to director Marc Tumminelli for the fast-paced, well-structured direction.

And not to give anything away, but there may have actually been a full re-enactment of the entirety of the Fantasmic Fireworks show. It was a sight to behold.

For more information on Andrew Barth Feldman, follow him @andrewbfeldman on Twitter and Instagram. To see other fine acts at 54 Below, visit 54below.com.


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