Toon Talk: On the Record Cast Recording
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
ON THE RECORD
2-CD Original Cast Recording
You Gotta Have a Gimmick
With the plethora of so-called "jukeboxâ€? shows crowding Broadway in recent seasons, its no surprise that Disney Theatrical Productions hatched their own production, titled Disney's On the Record, featuring the vast catalog of Disney music available to them. In fact, the only surprise is that they hadn't thought about it sooner; after all, the wide array of memorable songs from Disney's beloved movies, television programs, theme parks and theatrical productions is a natural for a stage revue.
The formula for a "jukeboxâ€? show is really quite simple: take a collection of pre-existing songs, graft on a semblance of a plot, and presto: you got the tourists lining up down the Great White Way. The songs are already recognizable, and with such names as Billy Joel and Elvis Presley, you have built-in name recognition as well, so the risks to potential producers appear minimal. But it doesn't always pay off: for every monster smash like Mamma Mia! (featuring the hits of ABBA), there's a cringe-inducing flop, like the current Beach Boys' "musicalâ€? Good Vibrations.
The genesis of On the Record actually takes us back a couple of years, with word that Disney Theatrical was developing their newest show for the Broadway stage (following the huge success of their screen-to-stage adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, as well as the new musical Aida), a musical revue cleverly titled When You Wish (as in "When You Wish Upon a Starâ€?). That production never made it past the workshop stage, even with such talent as Tony-winning actress Faith Prince attached to it. Instead, Thomas Schumacher (head of DTP) came up with the idea of creating an original touring company show, one that could be done quickly and at minimal cost and, possibly, end up on Broadway sometime in the future.
Thus Schumacher, along with director/choreographer Robert Longbottom, conceived the whisper-thin plot behind this new show: just as the music of Disney has been a part of our collective lives, the show would "present a group of performers who express themselves, fully and completely, through the music and lyrics of Disney. In other words, the songs become quite literally ... the soundtrack of their lives ... And since these characters would be presented entirely in song, we placed them in an environment where music is entirely at home - a recording studio.â€? Those are their words (courtesy of the cast album's liner notes), not mine, and I'm still trying to figure out how or why they came up with such a ridiculous concept.
And apparently I'm not the only one, for soon after the show premiered on the road to mixed notices and small crowds, it was quickly announced that On the Record would finish out its scheduled performances and then close for good, never making it to Broadway or, one could assume, be ever heard from again.
Ah, but it would be heard again: before its ignoble closure, On the Record was itself put "on the recordâ€?, with a complete cast recording (covering two compact discs) now available for all of us (who won't actually be able to see the show) to listen too and try to figure out how it all went wrong.
As with any musical cast recording (or musical soundtrack album, for that matter), it's the songs and music that matter: how they're performed, how they sound, how they make you feel when you're listening to them. And I admit, being a life-long fan of Disney music, I was eagerly awaiting hearing how they would turn out in this new incarnation.
Having said that, and fully recognizing the talents of the singers and musicians heard on the discs, I'm still disappointed with the end results. The best Disney songs have a magical quality to them, a timelessness that can instantly take you to "a whole new worldâ€? of enchantment and wonder. Not once did I feel this while listening to this hodgepodge of missed opportunities.
Obviously feeling the need to give some kind of structure to the numbers, a lot of the songs are grouped together by such arbitrary themes as "flyingâ€? or "cats and dogsâ€? or "nonsense wordsâ€? (in a medley dubbed a "Silly Symphonyâ€?). This leads to such odd pairings as "Belle Notteâ€? from Lady and the Tramp and "Les Poissonsâ€? from The Little Mermaid, two disparate songs grouped together because of ... what - foreign cuisine? Other medleys work slightly better, such as "I Won't Say (I'm in Love)â€? from Hercules and "Let's Get Togetherâ€? from The Parent Trap (with "Belleâ€? from Beauty and Beast inexplicably tacked on as well) and "I Just Can't Wait To Be Kingâ€? from The Lion King combined with, of all things, "Lavender Blue (Dilly, Dilly)â€? from So Dear To My Heart.