Disney 100: The Concert is a sensational production combining modern and nostalgic award-winning hits for a night of music, adventure and pure magic.
(BY WERSHA BHARADWA)
Celebrating 100 years of Disney on October 16th 2023, and promising to be the Disney event of the summer, Disney100: The Concert embarked on an whistle-stop arena tour across the UK from Wednesday 31st May 2023 until Thursday 8th June. The London show was held at the O2 on 4th June with a show in Birmingham at the slick Resorts World Arena on 6th June.
As part of the official centennial celebrations, the musical extravaganza promised to celebrate Disney’s timeless and inimitable storytelling – as well as the studio’s much loved characters – and it certainly delivered. The production, featuring sublime music from the Hollywood Sound Orchestra and set to legendary movie clips on a giant screen, has been brought to the UK by Senbla and is produced by Semmel Concerts who do a masterful job in putting together spectacular sounds and visuals.
The sumptuous evening commenced with renowned conductor Willhelm Keitel leading the orchestra’s overtures to Walt Disney’s iconic film, Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse. As a main, gigantic central screen behind them played the 1920s animation, the orchestra seamlessly flowed into snippets of music from other well recognised early Disney hits and a sentimental photo montage of Walt Disney himself.
Accomplished, ensemble singers and soloists – all with considerable experience on Broadway and the West End – included Bessy Ewa, Charlie Burn, Earl Carpenter, Cleve September, Roberta Valentini, Georgina Hagen, Richard-Salvador Wolff, Tobias Joch and Masengu Kanyinda.
BBC Strictly Come Dancing’s Janette Manrara made an excellent and engaging host; peppering her onstage appearances with interesting facts about Disney films and making frequent humorous quips and references to her time as a Strictly dancer as demonstrated when she judged the audience singing attempts out of 10 in a homage to the late Strictly judge, Len Goodman.
Next came one of the most standout moments; a screening from the captivating Fantasia (which won an Oscar in 1941 in the outstanding music video category) with Paul Dukas’ accompanying score and specifically, Mickey’s entire ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ scene. Using dramatic classical music that fully displayed the sheer talent of the orchestra sans lyrics or dialogue, it proved to be a great introduction of Disney’s earliest animated full-length features to children in the audience.
An Engaging Act Two
Throughout the evening, we journeyed through the decades via blockbusters from Cinderella, Pocahontas, Tarzan and Aladdin. Encanto and its number one, chart-smashing hit ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ had everyone in high spirits as did Earl Carpenter’s version of the sea witch villain Ursula when he creatively powered through ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ from the animated version of The Little Mermaid.
Surprisingly, an entire segment dedicated to songs from Frozen (with the excellent Roberta Valentino singing ‘Let it Go’) came in the middle of the show rather than the finale. It was brilliantly placed and cleverly helped keep everyone guessing as to what the exciting production had in store for them ahead.
A Grand Disney Finale
All set to inspiring pyrotechnics including huge smoke spirals, an extra special performance from the Hollywood Sound Orchestra of the iconic and thrilling Imperial March from Star Wars began after the interval and was followed by the theme tunes from Marvel Avengers End Game and Pirates of the Caribbean. The sheer stamina of the musicians who made up the collective and remained on stage for the entire two-hour duration was dead-cert Olympian.
The rest of the production was split into segments celebrating themes such as love songs with Roberta executing powerful and note- perfect vocals for ‘A Whole new World’ from Aladdin, and standout singers Bessy and Earl performing Beauty and the Beast’s titular tune.
A fun interactive audience ‘friendship Cam’ zoomed into various groups of people in the arena’s audience during a performance of Toy Story’s uplifting ‘You’ve Got a Friend In Me’ who then smiled and hugged each other each time they were caught unawares by the roving camera.
The entire night had the audience swaying, clapping along and smiling in their seats including during a certified crowd-pleasing sing-along of the ‘Bear Necessities ‘ from The Jungle Book with lyrics blown-up on screens. This, however, seemed unnecessary as the captivated and ever-familiar multi-generational audience knew those feel-good words by heart!
As the musicians and singers brought the event to an end, multiple giant balloons were released from the stage into the crowds below which brought out the big and little kids in everyone as they tried to keep them bouncing overhead in the air.
Before the end, Janette asked the audience if there were any songs from a certain classic they hadn’t yet heard performed. And while we’d been utterly entertained with scintillating melodies, the whole auditorium simultaneously erupted with shouts of ‘The Lion King’. We braced ourselves for the instantly distinctive and recognisable, opening Zulu lyrics of ‘ Nansi ingonyama bakithi baba’ as Bessy arrived on stage and began belting her heart out for a mesmerising, unaccompanied solo introduction with solid diction.
The evening was brought to a satisfying, electric and high-octane close by the entire ensemble who sang the up-tempo ‘Hakuna Matata’ before taking their bows and then returning for a fantastic encore performance of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ from Mary Poppins. Janette helped boost the fun with an interactive sing-along of the famous song with the arena audience divided into three groups to help the singers on stage.
Audiences of all ages were wowed and transfixed from start to finish with plenty of magic and childhood nostalgia – and the urge to go rewatch their favourite classics back home.