The latest musical by the House of Mouse team that produced the Broadway hits Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aida is a tuneful stroll through the history of Disney's song catalog. "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" -- all part of On the Record, which is premiering in Cleveland (at the Palace Theatre) this week.
Hold on. Premiering? In Cleveland?
"We needed a place to try out this show," says director and co-creator Robert Longbottom. "And this is a community that supports us. We're thrilled."
The story (what there is of it) is set at a recording studio, where a pop diva, a fading matinee idol, and a young unknown who's about to get her big break gather to sing at various sessions. All About Eve for the Ashlee Simpson set? Guess again. "There's a generational thing onstage between [the characters]," admits Longbottom. "But there's a lot of give-and-take: 'This is how we used to do this' vs. 'This is how we rock and roll this now.' Any time anybody over 40 walks into a situation where there's an 18-year-old, there's [going to be tension].
"It's really a trip backstage. It's not plot-driven or linear, but there's definitely a journey. We take you behind the scenes to show you how this is done. And ultimately, the music and the lyrics are the souls of the characters. It's interesting to look at them without the animated equivalent onstage. Nobody's dressed as Snow White or Mickey Mouse."
More than 60 classic Disney movie songs are packed into the production, which includes no dialogue -- just the sprightly cast singing tunes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ("Whistle While You Work"), Song of the South ("Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"), Beauty and the Beast ("Be Our Guest"), The Lion King ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"), and, um, Tarzan ("You'll Be in My Heart").
"Anyone who sees this is going to return to their childhoods," promises Longbottom, who directed and choreographed Broadway's Side Show and Flower Drum Song. "It's impossible not to remember where you were when you heard this stuff as a kid. These songs mean something very different when you come at them 20 years later.
"But it's a challenge [to stage], because it's wall-to-wall music -- one huge production number after the next. It's unbelievable how many hits there are. There's not a bad song here, and you gotta make sure each one of them is delivered in its own special way."
There's also a little bit of that Disney magic, with moving microphones and hyperactive sets. "It's not The Lion King," says Longbottom. "It's a big show in a little box." Bottom line, offers the director, is that On the Record is about "the goodness in the music. It's just so easy to fall in love with this catalog."
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