BWW Review: Lyric Theatre's DISNEY'S WHEN YOU WISH Brings Must-See Magic to the Civic Center
It's undeniable that just saying the word "Disney" conjures up an instant image, thought or feeling in a person's mind and maybe heart as well. The world created by Walt Disney has become a worldwide empire spanning everything from amusement parks to movies to merchandise of all kinds. Much of that involves iconic and beloved characters, many from beloved animated movies. The movies and their characters have been around a long time and are instantly recognizable. But if you thought you could never experience them in an entirely new and different way, Lyric Theatre is here to prove you wrong. Their production of Disney's When You Wish takes those magical movie moments and brings them to life in an entirely spectacular new way.
Lyric's production has been in the making for some time. The teams of creative artists working on the show have been workshopping it and putting it together piece by piece for at least a year, culminating in the creation of the first ever indoor production (it was done only once before, at an outdoor venue in Utah). A huge catalyst for this was the permission given by Disney Theatricals to Lyric Theatre to actually create and mount this show. It's quite exciting for Lyric to be chosen from among all the theaters in the country to take on creating this kind of new work.
As for the show itself, at its most basic, it's a musical revue where all the songs come from Disney movies and musicals. Not a straight revue, it does have a plot to tie everything together. A little girl appears at the beginning, getting ready for bed. She wants to read a bedtime story but her mother puts the book away and instructs her to go to sleep. Once mom is away, the girl jumps back out of bed, gets her book and begins reading. When she does so, she is whisked away to a sort of dream world, inhabited by all of your favorite Disney characters. It's sort of like Alice in Wonderland, except instead of Wonderland, she's in Disney and instead of the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat, she hangs out with Mulan, Hercules, Pocahontas, Belle and the Beast, and Mary Poppins, among others.
The list of movies and/or musicals with songs featured in this show is a long one and includes Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and The Jungle Book, among others, including some that are more recent and less well known. It's a great mix of instantly recognizable songs and ones which many in the audience won't know (you're likely to immediately want to Google some of them to find out where they came from). The crowd pleasers that everyone will expect to see, like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, get ample stage time and big production numbers. Other shows get much less time to shine, such as Tangled, which you'll miss completely if you stay too long in the bathroom at intermission don't return in time for the beginning of Act 2. Similarly, Jasmine and Aladdin also get short shrift, doing their one song (you know the one) and barely being seen or heard from again.
While the amount of stage time for each Disney movie might be uneven, the music, as arranged and orchestrated by Jim Abbott, is universally brilliant. This show gives many of the songs a new life and reveals a universality or timelessness in them that may not have been evident before. Director Michael Baron also does amazing work keeping every moment full of magic and finding the perfect tone for those moments at the same time. Nothing in the show ever feels like you're watching a scene in an animated movie. It never feels cartoonish. There's something real and grounded to the proceedings, something genuine and sincere. That's a credit to the work of Baron and all of his incredibly talented performers.
Among those performers, it's really the women of the cast who own the show (which is no surprise considering Disney movies usually revolve around a princess or other female heroine). Serena Feng leads the way as the unnamed little girl. Feng has a beautiful voice and amazing vocal ability for such a young actress and clearly has the talent and charisma to be a star some day. Ashley Arnold is radiant as Belle and sings with a lovely voice that outshines her very shiny wardrobe. Hannah Fernandes as Jasmine leaves Aladdin in the dust vocally with her beautiful singing. Sophia Macias nearly brings the house down with her amazing singing voice alone as Pocahontas. Jessica Martens is adorable and pitch-perfect as Ariel (though they could really cut back on the fog machines during her number). Kimberly M. Oliver's big, brassy Ursula is another show-stopping audience favorite. While Julie Welch has a gorgeous voice, the Mulan section of the show is a little lackluster, compared to the other segments. Anna Uzele has another spectacular voice to add to this ensemble as Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Finally, Mattie Joyner steals the show repeatedly as both Snow White and Mary Poppins, where she stunningly and perfectly channels the sound and soul of Julie Andrews.
Some of the male ensemble get to really shine as well. Tevyn Hill provides one of the biggest highlights of the production as Sebastian. His "Under the Sea" is a number that literally takes over the entire theatre and I dare you to not smile, tap your toes and sing along with the charismatic Hill. Equally charismatic is Perry Sook as Hercules, one of the few men who get a fair amount of solo singing time. He takes full advantage of the opportunity, as does Mateja Govich, whose deep voice is perfectly suited for his role as the Beast. Michael Andreaus and Jeff Jordan appear to have tons of fun during their fantastic The Jungle Book segment of the show, as King Louie and Baloo, respectively. And finally, Thomas Cromer pops up almost out of nowhere as Woody and provides the audience one of the most fun and funny scenes in the show.
While the amazing talent onstage is unquestionable, there's also no arguing with the technical skill brought together for this show. Adam Koch's scenic design is a magical world of wonder that works perfectly for this production and creates numerous worlds while allowing the audience to utilize their imagination to complete the picture (and it recalls the old Main Street Electrical Parade, which they don't do at Disney World any more). Equally astounding are the costumes by Jeffrey Meek. There really aren't enough adjectives to describe how great they are, just go see the show and you'll understand. Helena Kuukka's lighting design is also wonderfully conceived and implemented. It's yet another of the many aspects of this production where pure magic is created right before our eyes.
That may be the best way to sum up this show: pure magic. It makes no difference who you are, you will love it.
Disney's When You Wish runs through July 15th at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall in downtown Oklahoma City. Show dates and times are: Tues, July 11, 2017 - 7:30pm, Wed, July 12, 2017 - 7:30pm, Thurs, July 13, 2017 - 7:30pm, Fri, July 14, 2017 - 8:00pm, Sat, July 15, 2017 - 2:00pm, and Sat, July 15, 2017 - 8:00pm. Tickets may be p purchased through the theatre's website at lyrictheatreokc.com or by calling Lyric's Box Office at (405) 524-9312, M-F, 12pm - 5:30pm, or calling the Civic Center's Box Office at (405) 297-2264, M-F, 10am - 6pm.
Pictured: The cast of Disney's When You Wish at OKC Civic Center Music Hall. Photo by Carl Shortt