I think I was one of six people in the world who were waiting anxiously to hear the announcement of Broadway performers who would be a part of the inaugural Epcot Festival of the Arts. We finally received that information last week and I am ecstatic. My number one hope is performing and y'all best believe I will be at as many performances as possible. (Take into consideration I saw seven performances of "Comedy Warehouse: Holiday Special" one year... so I am a little crazy in that department.)
Now, even though I am currently pacing and screaming over the announcement, many aren't familiar with Broadway performers' work and why they are performing, so I'm here to help you jump aboard the train to Talent Town.
- Ashley Brown - Starred in the touring production of Disney's On the Record, was Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, was the original Mary Poppins on Broadway and on tour, and recently was seen as Mother Abbess in the touring production of The Sound of Music
I stand by my prediction of Ashley being the first Disney Legend from the world of Disney on Broadway. Her voice is incredible, her acting is delightful, and she can tap with the best of them. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her work in Mary Poppins (think of them as the Golden Globes of the theatre). She has performed at both Broadway D23 Expo presentations, slaying songs from every Disney show they've ever produced for the stage. I can't wait for her to blow the roof off of the American Gardens Theater. I am obsessed with her in a loving, but slightly crazy way, so I am going to freak out seeing her at Epcot.
- Josh Strickland - original Tarzan on Broadway
His only major theater credit is starring as Tarzan during the entire run of the show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in NYC. That cast album deserves a listen by everyone, as his voice is like butter. Especially on "Strangers Like Me," he exudes such a confidence and infectious energy. He has also performed at both D23 Expo Broadway presentations and has since become known for a killer Aida cover. He is going to kill it at Epcot.
- Kerry Butler - Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, released Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust, an album of Disney covers, and has been in countless other non-Disney Broadway shows (original lead cast member in Hairspray, Disaster, Xanadu, etc.)
I saw her name on the list and audibly went "WHAT?!" She is a Tony Nominee, for goodness sake! I've seen her recently on stage in Disaster and she was hilarious and her voice is straight up banana pants. For any fellow Gilmore Girls fans, she just appeared as Emily's therapist in the new episodes, so that's a cool credit. Her work on stage has led her to become synonymous with the Great White Way. A phenomenal talent with a palpable kindness you can feel from your seat. I'm anxious to hear her set list. Hopefully it includes her gorgeous cover of "Disneyland," from the Menken musical bomb Smile, which happened to star Jodi Benson. (How is THAT six degrees of separation!?)
- Kevin Massey - original Tarzan understudy, ensemble member and understudy in Big River revival and Memphis, understudy and ensemble member in Broadway production and Monty Navarro in touring production of A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder
This was another odd selection, as his Disney credits are slim. Oddly enough his wife, Kara Lindsay, has more as she was the original Katherine in Newsies (!), but he's still great. I recently caught him on the AGGTLAM (that's a mouthful) tour and he was pure joy on stage. His comedic timing is incredible and he has a lovely voice. Again, I'm really intrigued to find out what his set list will be, as he doesn't have an expanse of Disney on Broadway experience. We do know, however, that Tarzan will definitely be in the mix and I am here for it!
- Kissy Simmons - Nala in the Las Vegas, touring, and Broadway productions of The Lion King
She is the "Queen" of Nala, so to speak. She has been in and out of the role of Nala for at least the past decade. "Shadowland," Nala's big song in the second act, is arguably one of the best female solos ever written for the stage and Kissy can BELT. Her voice is so powerful, it will actually knock your socks off. I can't wait to hear her cover the song live, but I know she was ace songs from Aida. Her voice is going to absolutely slay "Easy As Life." I'm not sure I can fully prepare to listen to that level of vocal prowess.
- Alton Fitzgerald White - Mufasa in the touring and Broadway production of The Lion King, along with roles on Broadway in Ragtime, The Color Purple, The Who's Tommy, and Miss Saigon
He was present at the D23 Expo "Broadway and Beyond" presentation and his work there, utilizing his gorgeous low voice, was astonishing. The Lion King stuff was incredible, but when he sang from King David, I got ALL the chills. It will be fun to hear his work on Disney's catalog (his Mary Poppins covers at the concert were great, too), especially when he can fully use every low note his body allows. It's going to be a GREAT show.
The performers are paired up for their performances (two by two by two, in order of this list), which is great for some gorgeous duets and love ballads. This is an impressive array of talent I can't wait to witness as a fan. I'm excited for others to take in the talent presented during the Festival and inspire a new generation of theatre lovers and performers. Here's to the Festival of the Arts!