I’m pretty confident in saying no company has had greater contribution to popular culture than Disney. From adapting fairy tales and bringing comic book characters to life, to embarrassing “anti-woke” Governor Ron De-sanctimonious on an international level, this company is ageing like fine wine!
To mark 100 marvellous years of memories and magic, Disney is touring around the world with a celebratory concert: Disney 100: The Concert. The UK tour is hosted by Strictly icon and Disney superfan Janette Manrara, who I previously reviewed in Remembering the Oscars, alongside her husband, Aljaž Škorjanec.
The concept of the concert is as follows: clips from various Disney films play on a huge screen whilst the Hollywood Sound Orchestra recreate iconic songs associated with the films – and, where the song has vocals, a star of the stage offers a rendition.
The all-star cast is made up of Bessy Ewa (Back to the Future, West End premiere), Charlie Burn (Les Mis – tour, concert and West End), Olivier nominee Cleve September (UK premieres of Hamilton and Bonnie & Clyde; I reviewed the latter’s second West End run), Roberta Velentini (Elisabeth, Swiss premiere; European premieres of Wicked and Marie Antoinette), Georgina Hagen (original casts of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Groundhog Day; Tracy Beaker; Brittania High), Richard-Salvador Wolff (Aladdin, European premiere), Tobias Joch (Schikaneder, original cast), Masengu Kanyinda (Daddy Cool), and Earl Carpenter (original casts of The Witches of Eastwick and Mandela; I reviewed the latter but I think he was off).
The opening number was an overture played by the orchestra; it was a medley of various well-known Disney songs. Then, Janette took to the stage and was soon joined by the cast, who fittingly performed ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast. The group numbers were the best. The actors, who hail from all over Europe, vibed very well together.
Janette then properly introduced us to the show. She’s such a likeable presenter; she’s natural and does not take herself too seriously.
The first few numbers were tributes to Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Hercules. Bessy Ewa then offered a charming rendition of ‘Almost There’ from The Princess and the Frog, a song I did not love at the time but have recently found great love for. It’s not easy to cover a song by Anika Noni Rose but Bessy did a great job.
After a tribute to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the concert finally blessed us with a song everybody knows: ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen, performed by vocal powerhouse Roberta Valentini.
This was followed by an instrumental tribute to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Whilst other numbers had a montage clips shown onscreen, allowing us to appreciate the film as a whole and not be distracted by the cartoon characters’ singing, this number was made up of the film’s most iconic scene: Mickey Mouse getting carried away with his new-found magic. The entire audience was captivated by the footage, accompanied by the glorious orchestra.
The show then decided to explore the theme of love, with three dazzling duets: ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ from Tarzan (Earl and Roberta), ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin (Cleve and Charlie), and the title song from Beauty and the Beast (Bessy and Earl).
‘A Whole New World’ was a standout number from the night, and whilst Cleve’s voice is angelic, I would have preferred Richard-Salvador sing that song, for he played Aladdin in the European premiere of the stage musical. All of the actors are established stars of the stage so I’m unsure why half of them were not given the opportunity to lead any of the numbers.
Further, whilst Charlie makes a brilliant Jasmine vocally, all of the other songs sang by Black and brown characters were covered by actors of colour, so I’m not sure why Jasmine was an exception.
The penultimate performance was an English-language cover of ‘Dos Oruguitas’ from Encanto (‘Two Oruguitas’), led by Cleve, with Richard-Salvador and Tobias backing him up. This was a pretty funky performance, complete with confetti, which Janette then came and hoovered up, hilariously.
“Yes, hosting, cleaning and pregnant – woman of the year,” she joked, received an applause from the audience.
The final performance of the first act was the wonderful ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, also from Encanto. Janette made sure to reference the marvellous Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Whilst the first act was made up solely of tributes to Disney animation, the second act explored some of Disney’s other films, opening with a spectacular instrumental Star Wars tribute.
After this, there was a beautiful tribute to Moana, with Bessy brilliantly covering the relatable ‘How Far I’ll Go’, before the ensemble joined her for ‘…’. They attached sheets of material to the end of the stage before wind machines were turned on, making the material rise up and shimmy.
The effects continued, with smoke firing up from the ends of the stage for an instrumental tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean, and more confetti for Bessy’s roaring rendition of ‘Colors of the Wind’ from Pocahontas. A sprinkling on confetti fell from above as the iconic visual of Pocahontas’ hair blowing in the wind, with leaves swirling around her, played onscreen. It was very fitting.
As racially problematic as that film may be, its signature song is an anti-colonial anthem.
After this, Janette made a brief but passionate speech about protecting nature. We stan! The nature theme continued, with Roberta offering a rendition of ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid. This was pretty special, for the live-adaptation has just opened in cinemas.
Roberta’s voice was a bit breathy at first but her climax (especially her mighty “above”) was exceptional.
They could not honour The Little Mermaid without honouring the greatest villain song in Disney history: ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’. But they mixed things up with Earl, a man, covering the song! I guess Ursula was based on a drag queen…
Whilst I loved Earl’s devious delivery, I was baffled by the changed lyrics, some of which were incorrectly repeated. I’m unsure if Earl had remembered the lyrics incorrectly or the creatives had decided to rewrite the song – either way, why?
An instrumental tribute to Avengers: Endgame was followed by an interactive, ensemble-led performance of ‘The Bare Necessities’ from The Jungle Book. With lyrics onscreen, the audience was encouraged to sing along – and, oh, did we!
Sticking with the theme of friendship, Cleve covered ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ from Toy Story, with a “Friendship Cam” (Janette reminded us it was not a kiss cam!) flashing upon members of the audience.
After a tribute to Frozen 2, Charlie sang ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever’ from Beauty and the Beast, with clips from various films playing onscreen. It was a celebration of 100 years of Disney, ending with images of Walt – and there was more confetti!
Janette then asked the audience what film they had not yet paid tribute to… The Lion King, of course!
‘Circle of Life’ had the audience in awe (especially when the pyrotechnics kicked in).
The ensemble stayed onstage for the penultimate song: ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ from Mary Poppins, led by Charlie and Earl. Janette got the audience to say the phrase.
“I think we can better – that’s about a seven,” she joked, mimicking the late, great Len Goodman.
The final song of the evening was ‘Hakuna Matata’ from The Lion King, with the cast and crew throwing huge balloons out into the audience. It was a fun, engaging end to a nostalgic evening.
Now, the ticket prices are a little hefty, especially because the “star soloists” are not, as some might presume, Disney icons. That said, whilst the French tour features Celise Calixte, the French voice of Moana in Moana and Ariel in the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, I appreciate that Halle Bailey, Jodi Benson and Auli’i Cravalho would cost a mighty buck!
Disney 100: The Concert is a warm, touching and elegant tribute to an institution that has defined public culture for a century. Our grandparents grew up with it, our parents too, us, and now the next generation – and generations to come.
Disney is not just a company; it’s more than just culture. Disney, by virtue of defining generations, brings people together – and that’s exactly what happens at Disney 100: The Concert.
Disney 100: The Concert tours the UK until June 8.