D23 Expo 2013: Broadway and Beyond

A fun evening took place in Stage 23 last evening as Disney Theatrical Productions put on a special one-time showing, “Broadway and Beyond”, featuring musical selections from many current, previous, and even future Broadway productions.

The show opened with a selection of songs from Beauty and the Beast — appropriate since that show was Disney’s first foray onto the Broadway stage.   We first heard “Be Our Guest”, done by all five performers, then “Beauty and the Best” by Heidi and “If I Can’t Love Her” by Alton.

After this opening, Thomas Schumacher, President and Producer at Disney Theatrical Productions, came out to make introductory remarks.    He shared that there are currently 17 productions playing around the world under the Disney Theatrical Productions banner.   He introduced the 5-piece orchestra (can you be an orchestra with only 5 pieces?  I think yes if one of them is a violin) and the performers.    All of the performers remained onstage throughout the show — so whoever wasn’t currently performing was a back-up singer, or, frequently, just an enthusiastic spectator.    Clearly they all enjoyed each other’s performances and it was always fun to watch everyone, not just whoever was currently in the spotlight.

The performers were:

  • Heidi Blickenstaff.   Played Ursula in The Little Mermaid
  • Ashley Brown.  Originated the role of Mary Poppins in the stage version, previously played Belle in Beauty and the Beast.   Non-Disney roles include Laurey in Oklahoma and Maria in The Sound of Music.
  • Merle Dandridge.   Played Kala in Tarzan and Aida in Aida.   Also in Broadway productions of Rent, Spamalot, and Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Josh Strickland.   Originated the role of Tarzan.
  • Alton Fitzgerald White.   Mufasa in The Lion King.   Also in Broadway productions of The Color Purple, Ragtime, The Who’s Tommy, and Miss Saigon.

Photography wasn’t allowed during tonight’s performance, and words just can’t do it justice … so I’ll have to settle for providing the set list.   It was truly a fantastic evening.

And we had a few special guests in the audience — Alan Menken and Richard Sherman, both of whom will be performing tomorrow night, and between them responsible for well over half of the music we heard tonight.

The second featured musical was The Lion King.   We were treated to “Hakuna Mutata” (Alton and Josh), “Shadowland” (Merle), and “They Live in You” (Alton).    (By the way, if your only exposure to these stories is from the movies, many song titles will be unfamiliar as in the process of taking these stories to Broadway, the book and score are both expanded — usually with the original composer providing additional songs.

Next was a song from the German production Der Glockner Von Notre Dame.   This production will probably be reworked into an English-language version at some point, and the song performed by Josh, “Made of Stone”, was in English suggesting this may already be underway.

Next up were a few songs from Aida.  “Easy as Life” was performed by the original Aida, Merle, then Josh did a fun and funny interpretation of a spoiled, fashion-obsession princess in “My Strongest Suit”.

Tarzan was well represented with the original Tarzan (Josh) and Kala (Merle).   The two of them sang a duet of “You’ll be in my Heart”, and then Josh performed “For the First Time” with Ashley (performing Jane).

Another musical where we had an original lead was Mary Poppins.   Ashley first performed “Practically Perfect in Every Way”, one of the songs added for the stage.   Then Alton and Ashley gave us “Jolly Holiday” and “Chim Chim Cheree”.   Then, perhaps the most moving moment of the evening, Ashley gave a goosebump-inducing version of “Feed the Birds”.    This received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd and reportedly brought Richard Sherman to tears; it was Walt’s favorite song and after tonight I suspect it will be a favorite of quite a few more attendees.

Things then got more upbeat with selections from The Little Mermaid.   The entire ensemble performed “She’s in Love”.   Then Heidi gave a subtle, nuanced interpretation (not!) of “Poor, Unfortunate Souls”, and Ashley concluded the segment with “Part of Your World’.

From here we continued to Newsies.   “Carrying the Banner” was performed by the quintet, then Ashley sang “Watch What Happens” and was followed by Josh and “Santa Fe”.

We then got to hear a couple of selection from the rarely-performed King David.   Heidi gave us “Never Again”, Alton was joined by the others in “The Long Long Day’.

To wrap up the evening, we got to hear a new song from an under-development Aladdin musical.   Alton (as the Genie) and Josh (as Aladdin) performed the buddy song “Somebody’s Got Your Back”, supported by the other performers.

It was a very entertaining evening; D23 has really been on a roll with the evening performances since the Destination: D Animation event, and I hope they continue to provide these wonderful nightcaps at future events.

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