TV Review: “Encore!” (Disney+)

You don’t have to be a theater geek to love Encore!, but it helps. Executive Produced by Kristen Bell (Frozen), the premise of the series is simple. Each week, a high school theater group is reunited to get a second chance at performing a musical they did together. The only problem is they’re all at least a decade out of high school.

The debut episode takes place in Santee, CA where the high school performed Annie in 1996. Over twenty years have passed since most of them have seen each other and it’s hard to tell what is more difficult: Reprising the roles they played in the show, or healing old wounds.

I wouldn’t describe Encore! as a drama, but there are certainly elements of it. The debut episode includes a student who felt so isolated in high school that his castmates are only now getting to know him, as well as a cancer survivor who didn’t think they’d be around for this day. They only have a week to put their show together, but their free time is spent reconnecting and talking about big concepts that were hard to discuss back then, including bullying, religion, and sexuality.

Part of the fun of the show is that while the cast are largely unprofessional actors, they are given top talent to direct the show, music, and choreography, as well as a professional ensemble. It’s fun to watch the pros react to the amateurs, who often give cringe-worthy performances. But the show doesn’t exist to make fun of the performers, but rather to show how brave they are by taking them out of their comfort zone and letting them relive a moment in time that meant something to them. The two episodes I got to screen also included the high school director participating in the show and they don’t always respond well to taking direction from someone else.

The second episode I saw reunited students from Saginaw, TX, who performed Beauty and the Beast in 2007. It was fun, but because less time had passed, I found the reunion to be a lot less intriguing. But part of the fun was when they received a special visit from Susan Egan, Broadway’s original Belle, who mentored some of the cast members.

I will confess that I am now hooked on Encore! I’m excited to check back every week for a new episode. If you’re not a diehard theater geek, you’ll enjoy the show for the human elements and the way the reunited friends heal old wounds. And if you are a theater geek, it’s exciting to see each performer’s take on the characters and the staging is often well done for a “high school” performance. But most importantly, Encore! makes you feel good and I’m addicted.

I give Encore! 5 out of 5 10-year-olds going on 40.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).