As the Disney Fantasy nears closer to celebrating four years on the open seas, and I recently returned from setting sail on my third voyage on the magnificent vessel, I wanted to place focus on its five main musical productions in the Walt Disney Theatre.
Two of the three featured musicals are exclusive to the Disney Fantasy, two honor the arrival and departure of guests, and the other is appropriately named Believe. Reviewing these five shows required having seen each of them multiple times and evaluating them in comparison to not only one another on the Disney Fantasy, but also those on Disney Cruise Line’s other ships and within the domestic theme parks. Let’s dive right in!
A FANTASY COME TRUE
Ready to set sail with Disney Cruise Line? So is the fictional family in this show that showcases many of the Disney Fantasy’s trademark elements. It’s as educational to newbie cruisers as it is entertaining. There are the typical songs sung by Mickey Mouse and friends, but what I appreciate so much from this production is how it features appropriate Disney music according to how the show progresses. For instance, the teenagers who become acquainted in the Vibe teen club (on stage) chant out “Strangers Like Me” from Tarzan. Meanwhile, the parental characters who share a special night alone on the deck sing a sweet take on “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap.
Many performances also include a segment from one (or two) of the guest variety act performers on board. In this case, I saw two brief skits: one from juggler Michael Holly and the other from ventriloquist and comedian extraordinaire Taylor Mason. They raised the ship’s roof, so to speak, with their quick timing and fun audience participation. Of course, each voyage varies with who appears during this opening show, but suffice it to say that the opening show is a must-see experience that gets guests in the right mood for their vacation.
ALADDIN – A MUSICAL SPECTACULAR
Almost entirely a carbon copy of the recently closed theme park musical version from Disney California Adventure Park, this take on Aladdin is as entertaining as you can get – unless you see it on Broadway. I had caught the park production some 20+ times over the years, so suffice it to say, I know almost every line. Nevertheless, my enjoyment in watching the show has decreased over time. But this has always been one of Disney’s absolute best translations of a film-to-stage musical, and Disney Cruise Line’s variation is no exception.
Genie, always the star of the show, has one-liners up his sleeve during each scene. Most of the jokes and pop culture references remain fairly relevant, though some jests appear a little dated. Responding to the audience’s reactions through going off script, which occasionally occurs, is where Genie performs at his best. The main songs are present, as well as Jasmine’s soliloquy “To Be Free,” which also appeared in the theme park show. The performers who played Aladdin and Jasmine during the most recent viewing I saw possessed very strong and crisp voices. The effervescent “A Whole New World” sequence, involving a seemingly levitating magic carpet, utilizes lighting effects, smoke and incredible projected visuals to the max. It’s one of the greatest Disney songs ever written, and demonstrated in a very befitting manner.
While I wished the show deviated more from the theme park show, rarely taking any liberties, save for the “Arabian Nights” opening incorporating different props and visuals, it is a musical spectacular indeed. Aladdin typically plays during the first full day of the voyage and sets quite the gold standard. The show, close to an hour long, much like the others, is an impressive feat of visuals, music and acting presented on a moving vehicle. With limited space on stage, the cast and crew make the most of their setpieces to create an unforgettable experience.
Here is a video montage of the show’s main sequences from YouTube channel Attractions Magazine.
Have you ever wished that a Disney musical involved teenagers? You’re in luck, as the exclusive Disney Fantasy show depicts three seniors, enjoying their final days in high school, by spending the night at the happiest place on earth. But a regular Disneyland outing becomes something straight out of a Disney film when three friends (a brother and sister pair, as well as their best friend) are taken through an assortment of Disney atmospheres upon making a wish. Lead character Kayla is about to give her valedictorian speech, rehearsing during the special night, but her buddies have different preoccupations. Nicole is an aspiring dancer who hasn’t yet revealed to our protagonist that she is following a different academic path, whereas her brother Brandon is concealing his romantic interest in Kayla. These all set up various songs that show the characters’ evolution.
Brandon learns about courage through the help of Hercules in the pumping Gospel theme of “Zero to Hero,” as well as via puppet Sebastian’s calypso-sounding “Kiss The Girl.” Kayla grows to appreciate herself more through Mulan’s assistance in “Reflection.” Additionally, characters from King Louie to Rapunzel offer some words of wisdom in energizing musical sequences. Some rarely used tunes are integrated, making this an enjoyable sequence. After all, how many times can we hear “Hakuna Matata,” which, albeit sung, is quite entertaining because of the animated Timon and Pumbaa puppet. We hear a rousing rendition of “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” from Lilo & Stitch at one point, and by the end, cannot get the catchy “Honor To Us All” from Mulan out of our heads.
The three principal actors who play the teenagers are fantastic, even if the script calls them to play up their childish antics a bit too much to deem realistic. The songs transition to one another with seamless ease, thanks to the construction of this musical and how the scenes are woven in with such precision. Wishes‘ original song, which has the lyrics of “night of our lives,” is Disney Channel-like in its playfulness, but one that is hard to stop humming afterward. While I might be a pariah in writing this, I think Wishes is my favorite show currently playing aboard any of the Disney Cruise Line vessels.
Albeit I believe it is the weakest of the three featured shows (that also includes Aladdin and Wishes), this original production benefits from incorporating some unique musical elements. The story follows a precocious young girl – played by a grown woman, always interesting to observe – who is about to celebrate her birthday. She wants her father, a stodgy botanist, to appreciate the idea of magic. But that isn’t very logical, huh? Enter Genie, returning again to great applause, to teach about core values, such as the importance of family. He takes the skeptical scientist on a wild ride through various Disney song-induced moments – a standard for this genre – and embark on a life-changing experience.
Guiding the finicky father are none other than Merlin, who sings the rarely utilized piece “Higitus Figitus” (in this case, he is played by the same actor who portrayed Sultan from the Aladdin show), Fairy Godmother, and a hodgepodge of characters. Baloo educates the dad on the “Bare Necessities” in an entirely pre-recorded number, whereas the Mary Poppins sequence relies on terrific choreography set to “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.” Of course, the obligatory usage of princess songs are in play, though not prominent. Instead, we get some eclectic choices in music, from the suitable “Dig A Little Deeper” from The Princess and the Frog, to the majesty of “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas.
I feel like that although the connections between songs and the storyline are not as cohesive as Wishes, perhaps the best comparison, Believe is solid throughout. The main lagging points involve the typical dragging dialogue and the pronounced reliance on pre-recorded audio. Genie’s jokes work to add some flavor to the musical, and the array of songs is quite encouraging. Kudos go out to the actor who plays the father, practically on stage the entire time, as well as the excellent ensemble whose constant costume changes and different dance numbers are alluring.
AN UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY
The show’s quality is contingent on a few factors that vary from cruise to cruise. One is the energy and engagement of the cruise director, who engages with the audience as everyone reflects on their voyage aboard the Disney Fantasy. Another crucial component is the variety act performer who may throw in a few skits related to his or her talents. For the most recent cruise, I once again saw John Charles, a Disney Cruise Line staple who plays the guitar and takes audience requests with simplicity. He’s a versatile musician who could not be better suited for appealing to guests of all ages on Disney Cruise Line, thus enhancing what is a pretty standard (and relatively short) closing show. The main segments consist of music with the classic Mickey Mouse and gang characters on the ship. Goofy takes captain of the ship in a rendition of “The Beautiful Briny” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Daisy and Minnie sing in another segment. There is little live singing, which is disappointing, and thus reduces the overall enjoyment of this musical. However, the stellar dancing abilities of these performers almost always compensates for that downfall.
Disney Cruise Line, and especially the Disney Fantasy, constantly reminds me of why I appreciate the gifts that Disney provides in offering wholesome and inventive family entertainment. The musical productions, while varying in enjoyment value, are overall worth catching and give the Disney Fantasy an edge to its fellow ships in the fleet. Not everyone will consider musicals as a crucial reason, or even somewhat of a variable, in choosing how to cruise. However, the Disney Fantasy’s consistently endearing and lovely shows prove that Disney Cruise Line is the most fulfilling (musical) way of traveling on the seas, assuming you take joy in, and cannot just merely stand, hearing Disney music in so many places aboard the ship.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.