THE Walt Disney organization can't be faulted for lack of marketing savvy. Euro Disney notwithstanding, they are on a roll now, and their latest venture is "Disney's Symphonic Fantasy," which is making its way around North America this summer. In a highly unusual booking, the musical revue recently played a two-week engagement at New York's venerable Metropolitan Opera House. If Mickey and Co. looked slightly out of place in a theater better suited to Wagner, the incongruity was more than offset by the children's delight in seeing the chandeliers rise to the ceiling at the dimming of the house lights.
This elaborate production celebrates music from Disney films, and there is no shortage of material or onstage talent. Local symphonies are recruited for the show, and here it was joined by the esteemed 90-musician American Symphony Orchestra. Also on hand is the Azusa Pacific University Choir and a large cast of performers and dancers, recreating 200-plus Disney characters.
During the New York engagement, various guest stars were recruited as onstage narrators. On opening night it was Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, and at the performance I caught it was the amiable weatherman from the "Today Show," Willard Scott.
The result is wholesome family entertainment. Beginning with an overture of Disney classics, the music in Act I encompasses medleys from such productions as "Jungle Book," "Snow White," and "Mary Poppins."
The music in Act II celebrates the more recent triumphs in the Disney canon, the music created by Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and Tim Rice for "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," and "Aladdin." These composers have reinvigorated the Disney musical tradition to the point where "Beauty and the Beast" is scheduled for a Broadway production next year.
Along the way, there is much spirited if uninspired choreography that resembles a parade at Disneyland. The characters' costumes are beautiful re-creations, even if the emotional impact is diluted by their necessarily inanimate visages. But with each arrival of a new character, the whoops and hollers of the children indicated that the show was reaching its target audience.
Youngsters were also delighted by such shenanigans as Goofy conducting the orchestra in a rendition of the "William Tell Overture." The finale featured the song that has made countless visitors to the Disney theme parks cringe with its relentless sweetness, "It's a Small World."