Friday, September 15, 2017

Frozen the Musical Melts Denver's Hearts

Let's face it.  Reviews of the new Disney Theatrical Productions' Frozen-The Broadway-Bound Musical are only useful if they provide constructive critical feedback to the creative team. No review of this show is going to have any effect on ticket sales for the upcoming Broadway transfer. The good news is that for a brand-new show on its feet in front of a live audience for the first time (in forever) is in surprisingly good shape.   Does it need some work?  Of course it does.  But, the reactions from the packed crowds in the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts signal that Disney has a sure-fire hit on its hands.

The 2013 animated film which won two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (Let It Go), became a cultural juggernaut. It's path to Broadway, however, followed a very similar trajectory to the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast in the 1990's.  The first staged version was a Disney On Ice production, which was very faithful to the film, including a chorus of skating trolls and Marshmallow, the abominable snowman.   It next made its debut as a 65 minute stage musical at Disney California Adventure theme park.  In that version, Marshmallow was gone, Wanderin' Oaken made a token cameo, but it still was faithful to the film's story arc.

Jennifer Lee, who wrote the film's screenplay and co-directed the film, returns as the book writer for the expanded Broadway-bound stage version.   Likewise, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the film's songs, return to write the new score.   They are joined by director Michael Grandage, choreographer Rob Ashford, scenic and costume designer Christopher Oram, lighting designer Natasha Katz and a host of talented technical wizards who find a way to bring this well-known property into a new and expanded life.

For Frozen-The Musical is much more complex than the 2013 film.  The story is the same, but the journey features welcome character development and the removal of some elements (wolves crashing a sleigh, Marshmallow, and the Trolls) that provide a better theatrical experience.
Rest assured that your children, particularly the many, many little girls wearing their best princess costumes to the show will be entranced. The adults will find heartfelt depth in this story of estranged sisters finding their way back to each other via an act of true love.

There is little that a reviewer can spoil for someone attending this show as the film and its story are well known.   That said be prepared for some of the usual sequences to be out of order from what you recall and elements of the staging to truly provide multiple wow moments.

Amongst those wow moments is the portrayal of Sven the reindeer.  The costuming for this character is vastly improved over the Disney California Adventure version.  Kudos to Sven's portrayer, Andrew Pirozzi for making Sven believable.  Olaf, portrayed by the very funny and adorable Greg Hildreth, is similar in style to the California Adventure version...on steroids.  If you have seen Timon in The Lion King you will know how Olaf is portrayed. Yet, this is a greatly improved puppet that has some magic up its sleeves and a warm heart given life by Mr. Hildreth.

Kristoff is given a better introduction than the film, providing more potential for an actual love triangle to develop in the course of the story.  Jelani Alladin is charming and playfully belligerent and sweet, especially when he sings his act two love song, Kristoff's Lullaby.   Prince Hans of the Southern Isles is as dashing as you would expect as portrayed by John Riddle.  The flaw remains from the film that when Hans takes a sudden character twist it still feels forced.  If the script would give a few hints that Hans is not the prince of Anna's dreams the twist would not ring false.

Patti Murin may have played a starring role on Broadway before in the briefly seen Lysistrata Jones. Murin's Anna is the role that will make her a star.  She's full of life and exuberance, echoed by the girls who play Young Anna ( Ayla Schwartz at this performance).  Ms. Murin is a terrific comedian, yet her love for her troubled distant sister Elsa comes across as real pain and a desire to make things right. A new song in act two when Anna is at the depths of despair, True Love, gives you all of Anna's hopes and anguish.

Cassie Levy's Elsa is much, much more than the queen of snow and ice. Given two new songs that show her hopes for normalcy, Dangerous to Dream, and in act two, when her nightmares about her powers comes true, Monster,  Ms. Levy adds emotional punch to her royal snow queen who yearns to Let It Go. And that power ballad is just as invigorating as the film, wisely ending the first act.

A small highlight that must be mentioned is the new and fun number that opens Act Two. It is inevitable that a show like Frozen will have long lines at the bathrooms at intermission and that many people will return to their seats after the act begins.  So that no true story elements are missed the second act begins with a wonderful funny showstopping number headed by Wanderin' Oaken (Kevin Del Aguila) and a chorus of dancing, sauna loving family members.  Hygge is a fun frolicing tune that gets the audience a chance to settle back in from the mad dash of intermission with small children in tow, ready to resume the story.

That story in act two does take a slight darker tone than the film. Rest assured that little theatergoers will not find it so dark as to cause parents' concern about their reactions. The story will work out in the end. The climax of that story is another wow theatrical magic moment.

If there is any new element to the story that doesn't quite work it is the replacement for the Trolls by another element of Scandinavian lore, the Hidden Folk.   For the most part, the Hidden Folk work as replacements for the Trolls.  And, it is implied in the script that Elsa and Anna's mother, Queen Iduna (Ann Sanders) may have Hidden Folk origins thereby giving an organic reason for Elsa's powers. What doesn't work so well is that the leader of the Hidden Folk, Pabbie (Timothy Hughes) narrates the story at several points.  This is a case of too much telling the story instead of showing the story. The appearance of Pabbie at certain times in the story make sense.  Cut back on the narration so that it doesn't dilute the power of the story and the script would be vastly improved.

Frozen - The Musical is going to be embraced by lovers of the 2013 film and families whose children demand to see all things Disney Theatrical.  For the casual theater goer and lover of Broadway Frozen also has much to offer. No matter what any reviewer says it will run many, many years once it transfers to the St. James Theatre next winter.

This review was based on a performance one week into the world premiere production at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.  As with any show in its early stages changes may have occurred between this review and the official opening night.

Frozen The Musical is having its world premiere at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through October 1, 2017.  For tickets please visit https://www.denvercenter.org/    Frozen The Broadway Musical starts performances at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on February 22, 2017.   For tickets and additional information please visit http://frozenthemusical.com/


Friday, December 16, 2016

Home For The Holidays at Carolwood - The Walt DIsney Family Museum


The Walt Disney Family Museum located in The Presidio in San Francisco, California is a love letter from the museum's founder, Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller to the legacy of her father. The museum is a must do for any fan of the films, theme parks and other projects that Walt Disney created for the world. Most important of all the museum is a magnificent tribute to Walt Disney the man.

The month of December brings a small special exhibit to the museum. An elaborate model shows the Disney family home surrounded by the famous miniature train known as the Carolwood Pacific. Unlike other model trains this one had engines and cars that could be ridden around the tracks which famously included a tunnel that avoided Lillian Disney's flower beds.

The model is located in a room in the basement of the museum.
The walls are decorated with scenes of Christmas and images of Walt Disney Company Christmas Cards.



The model of the Carolwood Pacific is a terrific holiday addition to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The museum features monthly film screenings. For December the films include Babes in Toyland and Christmas With Walt Disney.  Film screenings are included with admission to the museum.  Ask for a film ticket when you purchase your ticket.

For information on visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum please visit http://waltdisney.com/


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiday Express Train - The Sugar Cane Train on the Island of Maui




A beloved attraction on the west side of the island of Maui has returned!  The Sugar Cane Train in its first incarnation was open from 1969 to 2014.  Using both steam and diesel engines to transport tourists and locals from the Kaanapali area to Lahaina Town, the train was a gentle ride originally taking guests through the sugarcane fields.  Times change, the sugarcane fields have vanished, new housing and resorts have sprung up in their place and the Sugar Cane Train became less and less popular.

New owners vowed to bring the beloved Sugar Cane Train back from the mists of history. The special Holiday Express Train launches that effort.  Guests board the Holiday Express at the Puukolii Station.



The train sparkles with lights and decorations. Friendly elves hand out booklets that contain a special Sugar Cane Train Christmas Carol set to the tune of Winter Wonderland.  The conductor punches your commemorative ticket and the diesel engine heads to North Pole Maui, better known as the Kaanapali Station. There Santa Claus joins the train. The elves serve milk and nut-free chocolate chip cookies. Santa gives all the children a special present. Santa and the elves lead everyone in singing carols as the train continues its journey through the starlit night.




While the train cannot yet traverse the entire original track due to maintenance and right-of-way issues, the Holiday Express provides a jolly way to celebrate the holiday season. Tickets are $30 per person. Children 2 and under sitting on an adult's lap ride for free. Trains run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December 25, 2016. There are two trains per night at 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. with check-in recommended for 30 minutes before your train to get a good parking space at Puukolii Station.

For tickets please visit http://www.sugarcanetrain.com/






Friday, November 25, 2016

Festival of Holidays at the Disneyland Resort



I know, I know, it's not December.

The Accidental Thespian ran the Avengers Superheroes Half Marathon on November 13th. That weekend was also the beginning of all things Christmas and winter holidays at the Disneyland Resort. No one does Christmas quite like the Disney theme parks and resorts. If you have ever attended the Christmas season at Walt Disney World which begins one week after Halloween you know what I mean. At Walt Disney World you can attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party a hard ticket special event at the Magic Kingdom that includes hot cocoa and cookies, special character meet and greets and have a chance to view both the Once Upon A Time Christmas Parade and the Holiday Wishes fireworks without the massive Christmas week crowds. Walt Disney World decorates the resort hotels to the hilt featuring massive Christmas trees and in the Contemporary Resort and Beach Club Resort spectacular gingerbread creations.



The Disneyland Resort starts its Christmas season with the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay that overlaps both the Halloween and Christmas seasons. Much more than adding a few decorations here and there the decorations completely transforms the Haunted Mansion into Jack Skellington's playground, or as the Ghost Host says showing what happens "when two holidays collide." The highlight each year is the monstrous gingerbread house displayed in the mansion's ballroom. New this year a winsome Sally animatronic in the graveyard.

Disneyland also features It's A Small World Holiday a celebration of world-wide holiday celebrations that will make you rue the day that Disney mashed up that classic earworm It's A Small World After All with Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls.  Make sure to ride after sunset when the facade lights up and a projection show is performed on the facade several times each night.

Wanna visit Santa in the Magic Kingdom? He meets guests daily at Pooh's Thotful Spot in Critter Country.


The Magic Kingdom's last magical holiday ride transformation is the Jingle Cruise. While both Walt Disney World and Disneyland include this attraction the Disneyland version goes ho-ho hog saturating the ride with decorations throughout the ride to match the Jingle Cruise skippers holiday puns (don't miss that classic holiday Piranhanukah -- the eight day festival of bites).



Of course the Magic Kingdom has its own Believe..in Holiday Magic fireworks, but for a real night-time spectacle head to Disney California Adventure.  Do not miss the amazing brand new World of Color - Season of Light.  A beautiful mix of Christmas tunes, Disney characters, the dancing fountains sour to the heavens and a new special effect, bubble hearts fill the sky during a performance of Let There Be Peace on Earth.



Disney California Adventure is the host for Disney Festival of Holidays. The entire park is decorated with period appropriate decorations on Buena Vista Street, Seasons Speeding decorations in Cars Land and Viva Navidad in the Paradise Gardens area of Paradise Pier.  The Three Caballeros host a street party featuring folklorico and samba dancers, musicians and Mickey and Minnie several times a day. When they aren't hosting the party the Caballeros meet guests in rotation with Goofy. New Disney tv star Princess Elena of Avalor has a musical grand arrival and also meets guests throughout the day. 



The Festival includes special food kiosks, visits with Santa Claus at the Redwood Creek Challenge trail, and special performances.  Mostly Kosher regales guests with jazzy Hanukkah music. Blue 13 Dance Company celebrates the Hindu festival of lights Diwali. There are Holiday Toy Drummers at the Boudin Bakery and Mariachi Divas in Pacific Wharf. Raise brings gospel joy to Paradise Pier.


Disneyland's holiday events run through January 8, 2017. For more information on events please visit





The Accidental Thespian Returns First Up All Things Christmas and Other Holidays

So it's been almost a two year break. I have been researching, writing, running half marathons, traveling and seeing a lot of terrific theater in the past two years. (Yes, Hamilton is worth the hype)
I've decided to resume writing The Accidental Thespian blog. I will not write as many reviews as I did in its first incarnation. I want to reclaim some of the fun of blogging that started me on this quirky project back in the fall of 2010.

To that end I am about to embark on a rather silly project. The Accidental Thespian will see just how much Christmas and other winter holiday events she can tolerate in the month of December. As I write this I sit on the island of Maui and will be boarding the Holiday Express Sugar Cane Train tonight. A beloved Maui attraction that is also being resurrected after ending its original run from 1969-2014.

So for my few followers on social media I sincerely hope you will be entertained.

Mahalo

Diane

Mele Kalikimaka

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Accidental Thespian Takes A Bow ....For Now

With the publishing of my latest review, I have decided to take a break from writing The Accidental Thespian.   I began this blog in the fall of 2010 as part of my recovery process from a bad episode of depression.  Writing about the theater that I love to perform, create and attend kept my foot in the career that I love and adore.  

Now it is time for me to move on to the next phase of my writing life. I have another large project and another blog marchionessofexeter.blogspot.com.  Gertrude Blount Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter was the first historical person I portrayed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. She is one of the most fascinating members of the courts of King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Mary I that you have probably never heard of. I decided that I would like to research her life and that of her husband, Henry Courtenay, first cousin to King Henry VIII, with the aim of writing a biography of her. That project needs to become my number one priority in 2015.

Well that and a little project I am doing for the 2015 Popular Cultural Association/American Cultural Association's national conference in New Orleans, LA in April. I am delivering my third paper in the Festival and Faires division this one about another of the historical women I have portrayed.  Entitled "That Bawd Lady Rochford, or How Popular Culture Turned Me into a Bitch." I will be examining how the wife of George Boleyn became one of the most hated women of the 16th century and the role popular culture depictions of her shaped that opinion.

I hope that I will one day return to The Accidental Thespian. I've enjoyed writing my reviews for my tiny audience of friends and acquaintances. I've learned a lot during the process.  Mostly I think my father, Russell Holcomb, who once upon a time actually encouraged me to consider writing theater criticism, would have enjoyed this little exercise of mine.

Until then, I will continue to see a lot of theater. (Five Guys Named Moe at Arena - fun, Fiddler On The Roof at Arena - compelling, A Delicate Balance on Broadway - Albee.  Need I say more?)  I hope to get back on stage myself one day or at least turn into a producer of things I believe in.

Please continue to support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the marvelous work that they do to support those who live with HIV/AIDS and other medical needs.  Please support live theater whether its buying a ticket or donating to the theater company of your choice.

This is Diane Holcomb Wilshere, The Accidental Thespian signing off.

The Elephant Man at the Booth Theatre


The life of Joseph Merrick attracted a lot of attention in the late 1970's, first with the publication of Ashley Montagu's book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity and the renewed interest in Dr. Frederick Treves' memoir The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences.  This led to the 1979 Tony winning play The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance receiving a top notch revival production at the Booth Theatre. While this is an excellent production featuring compelling performances by the small cast and steady, thoughtful direction by Scott Ellis, audiences who pay attention to the text may leave the theatre questioning the circumstances of Joseph Merrick's life, particularly after his decision to live and be studied medically by Dr. Treves at the London Hospital for the last four years of his life.

Joseph Merrick? Does the reviewer not mean John Merrick as he is referred to in Pomerance's play? No. The actual man was named Joseph Merrick and following the popularity of both the play and the David Lynch film another biography by Michael Howell and Peter Ford The True History of the Elephant Man was published which proved among other things that the young man's name was Joseph and that a lot of what Dr. Treves published about Mr. Merrick's early years was false. Yet, despite these errors being given voice in the play, Mr. Pomerance's play is filled with a respect for humanity especially beneath the surface of one hideously deformed by a medical condition unable to be treated by 19th century medicine. Come for the freak show, or more likely to see Academy Award nominated actor Bradley Cooper in the title role. Leave the theater questioning whether Mr. Merrick simply traded up to a more comfortable exhibit hall.

The play begins with Dr. Treves meeting his new employer Carr Gromm at the London Hospital. Learning of a freak show curiousity near the hospital he pays his admission and sees John Merrick for the first time. Insisting on examining Mr. Merrick Dr. Treves takes him back to the hospital where he gives a lecture on his deformities. During the lecture photographs of the actual Merrick are shown while the very beautiful Mr. Cooper contorts his body to approximate Merrick's disability.

According to the play, Joseph Merrick was born and developed hideous skin growths that severely deformed most of his body. Abandoned by his mother to a workhouse he grew up there until he reached maturity. The only source of income possible was to join a side show as a curiosity. Mr. Merrick is shown being beaten by his so-called owner and manager Ross and eventually abandoned while in Belgium.  Returning to London Mr. Merrick is admitted to London Hospital where Dr. Treves gets several life lessons about the nature of humanity and man's relationship to God by caring for Mr. Merrick. It is Merrick's introduction to the famous actress Mrs. Kendall that broadens his social interactions while turning the London Hospital into a popular site for the aristocratic patrons the hospital desperately needs for funds. Over the course of his stay at the hospital one can only wonder did Dr. Treves benefit more from his paternalistic care of the man or did Merrick deepen Dr. Treves humanity.

The primary players in this revival give emotional performances. Alessandro Nivola is a reticent Dr. Treves whose relationship with Merrick slowly unleashes buried emotions. Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Kendall has a regal bearing. She is "acting" when she is first asked to visit Merrick using her performer's mask to hide her natural revulsion. The two characters are deeply affected by how Merrick affects them deeply and it shows in their heartfelt performances.

Bradley Cooper shows by his role choices how good an actor he is, not for nothing has he rightly earned two Academy Award nominations. Mr. Cooper has stated in numerous interviews that it was the 1980 David Lynch film of The Elephant Man (not related to the play) that made him want to become an actor. Merrick is a challenging and showy role requiring great physical and vocal stamina. Look beyond the theatrics and Mr. Cooper is giving one of the most compelling performances of the fall Broadway season.  One hopes that he is not lost at Tony nomination time by the distant memories of the Tony committee after the closing of the limited run of this production.

The play is colored by a Victorian empire notion that those with money and means know best how to care for the poor and afflicted. Merrick's life story as portrayed feels at times like he has traded a street exhibition for a more gilded one. The audience should be uncomfortable by the all-knowing Victorian sensibilities of Dr. Treves towards his patient (and the hospital's cash cow). This same audience should also walk away from Mr. Cooper's performance in the title role delighted to have made Mr. Merrick's acquaintance.

The Elephant Man is being produced at The Booth Theatre on Broadway in a limited run through February 15, 2015. For tickets and other performance information please visit elephantmanbroadway.com.