Have you ever wanted to know the story of Walt Disney? A man who most know for creating lifelong classical features and setting the standards for all amusement parks has had his life story portrayed in a musical. Recently I attended “When You Wish” The Story of Walt Disney, at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA. This two-hour and fifteen minute production was filled with 14 original songs and a cast of 20. If you did not know the story behind Walt Disney from the start of his childhood all the way until the opening of Disneyland, well this musical was one to surely see.
This musical is something that any Disney fan would enjoy. There was so much thought and emotion put into the production of the play that even the people in the back row felt the struggles and joys of Walt Disney. The play was split into two even acts that were nicely packed with dance numbers, songs, and great dialogue. The lead, played by Tim Marin Gleason, did an excellent job in presenting himself as Walt Disney. He gave much presence to the stage and was an excellent singer. He had a wide range of vocals. Accompanying him through a diverse set of scenes, was Roy Disney played by, Andy Umberger. Roy was also the narrator, who often gave funny comments during areas which seemed pretty heavy and he also acted like a true older brother in the manner of his witty dialogue. These two main characters had a great on stage presence and it felt like we actually knew them. Aside from the main roles, many other notable characters that played a large presence in Walt’s life were also brought to life on stage. By his side were Lillian Disney and Ub Iwerks just to name a few.
The story line flowed very smoothly. From beginning scene, Walt appeared as a young boy drawing on toilet paper and expressing how he wanted to be something great in life. His mother said that he could do whatever he wanted as long as he was happy. Story then lead to the start of his animation career and all the hardships that he had to deal with. First off, he made many risky moves with business men that in the end did not pay him pay for his team’s hard work. There was a consistency of success and failure throughout the first act. After many many times of trying to make something of himself, he always ended up getting the short side of the stick. The biggest part that stood out was the huge controversy over the rights of Oswald the Rabbit. This, according to the play, was one of his major breaking points. He had nothing left. But on a plus side his character was supported by his acting family through most of the production showing that in real life that he really cared for family. The plot also briefly included the love story between Walt and Lillian. Each appeared to balance each other out creating the idea relationship. The main focus of the story begin his work, still by the end of the first act did not seem to have any light. The scene ended with the creation of Mickey Mouse. I feel that the story line was very similar to that of Walt’s real life story.
The second act was lighter on failure and more about success. Walt was shown as trying to push the presence of Mickey Mouse as far as he could yet no one would really listen. He did everything in his power to get word out that this was something big. Not until he decided to do something unrealistic such as putting sound in a cartoon did he actually start to make a name. That cartoon being the ever so famous Steamboat Willie. After the brief popularity of his short cartoon, his imagination went even farther into the idea of creating an animated full length feature film. Many he thought he was crazy but surprise to all he did it. The characters did a wonderful job in actually wearing clothes very similar to that of what he really wore at the world premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Carthay Circle. It was as if they were actually stepping back in time. The story line continued with the growing success of the Disney Company. There was a well-choreographed dance montage each representing one of his films in order from Pinocchio to Lady and the Tramp. Each feature film was presented by a different type of dance that was well accompanied by a key characteristic identifying the film through costume. Lastly, the cast of Walt, Lillian, Roy and his wife were set in the scene of the opening day speech of Disneyland. Again, they were all wearing clothes suited to that of what had been actually worn on that day. The famous opening day speech was presented and there was not a single dry eye in the theater.
I really did enjoy this musical. The costumes fit their time period very well and made great transitions as time progressed. They even paid great attention to the changing physical features of the characters such as giving Walt his mustache near the end. The sets of each scene were simple and yet still added much ambiance to the area giving a great representation. The backdrop of was the same throughout the play. They were simple wood posts all in a line looking like a fence with a small screen projector in the middle. There were different things projected on the backdrop to help set the scene, some included billboards of cartoon and even skylines of big cities. The projection made things very versatile and transitioned very quickly. The lighting fit well with each segment and turned a different color during the dance sequences. Hughes of red or big spotlights really worked in the favor of helping show the emotions that were on the stage. The choreography was spectacular in that it was very clean cut and filled with deep emotion. There was one part in which they had a tap dancing sequence and it coincided with a scene where they were portraying an office. It sounded like a typewriter. In addition to the dance, a live orchestra presented the music and there was not one key that was off note. The wide range of musical instruments was greatly presented. Lastly, the talents upon the stage did an excellent job. There was a variety of emotions; from happy to sad, and from anger to the escalation of yelling with more anger. Each did a well job in presenting themselves as their characters.
The musical overall was very enjoyable. One could tell that they worked on it a lot because of the depth of background information that was needed to preset the story. It appeared very well researched and thought out in every aspect. Personally I did feel a little anxious in some part of the dialogue because it must have been really hard for Walt to make a name for himself in a field that was not known. Also to note that there was not a single icon of Disney material presented in the production such as music or artwork. That led to the imagination to fill in the blanks in some of the scenes if you wished. This musical is said to be heading off to Broadway but I feel that it would do much good to amp up the sets as well as clarify some of the dialogue. Overall I’m glad that I was able to see this production on its last run at the Freud Playhouse and I would definitely see it again. I hope you enjoyed my review and do not forget to look for this musical again in the future.
*The use of taking photos of the musical itself were prohibited but if you would like to see some, check them out here on their main website.