Sacre Bleu! Disneyland Paris Is Broadway's French Quarter
The “Maison of Mouse” says “Be Our Guest”
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Shalom, Broadway lovers!
Today’s monthly FREE Premium edition of the Broadway Maven’s Weekly Blast celebrates Disney’s Broadway with a report on the Broadway presence at Disneyland Paris; BROADWAY BLASTs on Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King; Peter Filichia’s Broadway on Ragtime; YouTuber Michael Radi on the opening number from Beauty and the Beast; a survey about Jewish Disney animated musicals; and a LAST BLAST on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Move over, Mickey.
Show tunes are so inescapable at Disneyland Paris that guests may find the “theme” of the theme park to be Broadway.
One highlight – especially for Frozen families – is a 23-minute interactive celebration of the 2013 animated classic and its more recent Broadway version. Four stars of the franchise come to life on stage, namely Princess Anna, her friend Kristoff, an audio-animatronic Sven and a CGI Olaf. They deliver a fun bit of schtick. In the first auditorium, the characters prepare a set of hand motions (“and right, and left, and raise hands up…”) to the iconic song “Let it Go.” The audience practices the movements to perform as a surprise for Princess Elsa in her ice palace, conveniently located in an adjoining hall. It’s a delightful twist on a crowd-pleasing tune.
A more intense live show is based on the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time: The Lion King. The 30-minute “Rhythms of the Pride Lands” showcases dancers, tumblers, aerial acrobats, and some serious belters presenting all five major numbers from the 1994 film, plus a few written specifically for the 1997 stage show. (I was surprised and pleased they included my favorite Lion King stage number, “He Lives in You.”)
What if you don’t speak French? No problem. Sir Tim Rice’s Lion King lyrics are untranslated. And the Frozen show threads the needle nicely by having characters alternate languages without repetition or translation. It’s rather easy for anglophones to follow.
The two live shows were my favorite part of this week’s visit. To my surprise, though, Disney music was far from the only Broadway presence I found in the park. The part of Disneyland Paris closest to the entrance is known as Main Street, and the soundtrack there is filled with classic show tunes. The first two I heard particularly impressed me as they are homages to my home state of Missouri: “Kansas City” from Oklahoma! and “Meet Me in St. Louis” from the movie musical of the same name. Given all the shops and eateries in that section of the park, Broadway fans have plenty to enjoy while taking in some of their favorite songs.
If you’re looking for more classic Disney tuners, though, you’ll have an excellent opportunity in “Mickey’s PhilharMagic,” a 12-minute animated concert of songs like “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. The show is described as being in “4D,” which is Disney-speak for a 3D movie in which guests are bathed with scents and splashed with a little water. It’s easy to get swept away in revisiting some of the best show tunes from the House of Mouse.
If you’re a Broadway aficionado who associates Disneyland primarily with haunted mansions, pirate ships, and at most a few songs from Aladdin, you may find yourself more in your element than you ever dreamed in Disneyland Paris. Bon voyage!
ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no Weekly Blast next week in observance of Rosh Hashana.
BROADWAY BLAST: What if the title Beauty and the Beast also evokes its vain, monstrous villain’s signature characteristics? In the “Gaston” sequence, sidekick LeFou underscores both the antagonist’s physical perfection (“There’s no man in town half as manly…”) and his nasty style (“in a wrestling match nobody bites like Gaston”). The narcissist’s beauty thus masks his beastliness.
PETER FILICHIA’S BROADWAY: The author of The Book of Broadway Musical Debates, Disputes, and Disagreements, longtime critic and commentator Peter Filichia has seen more than 12,000 shows. He makes a video for every issue of The Weekly Blast. In this episode, Peter discusses Ragtime:
• why it's the Great American Musical;
• why Mother is an amazing female character;
• the Jewish experience in America; and
• the challenges adapting the E.L. Doctorow novel.
BROADWAY BLAST: The Little Mermaid signals the mendacity of Ursula the tentacled sea witch when she loans Ariel a macabre fish-skeleton quill to sign their fraudulent contract. Fittingly, when Ariel signs the sinister parchment risking her doom she uses black ink – a signature biological trait of the octopus.
Here’s a recent livestream by YouTuber Michael Radi about “Belle,” the opening song from Beauty and the Beast. Why is that number so well-constructed? Michael goes line by line through the song demonstrating the genius of lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken.
BROADWAY BLAST: In The Lion King, “Circle of Life” both opens and closes the show, underscoring first Simba’s arrival and then that of his own cub. The song not only illustrates the biological cycle of life on the savanna, but reflects the structure of the musical itself. You might even think about the song as symbolic of the history of Disney animation, which by then had blossomed into a “Disney Renaissance,” with fresh animated musicals like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The sharply drawn characters and snappy tunes of the new movie musicals merited comparison to the celebrated era of the classic films.
Note: links to register for ALL classes are always available at TheBroadwayMaven.com.
Coming up in November (registration opens in October):
• On Sundays, a new survey course on The Golden Age of Broadway with Broadway Maven David Benkof and music educator Mateo Chavez Lewis
• Tuesday, November 7: Gail Leondar-Wright on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
• Tuesday, November 14: Mateo Chavez Lewis on the musical motifs of Sunday in the Park with George
• Tuesday, November 21: Peter Filichia on Hello, Dolly!
• Tuesday, November 28: David Armstrong on The King and I
LAST BLAST: The musical palette of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat includes a blend of anachronistic, un-Biblical musical forms: country-Western, rock ‘n’ roll, calypso. The show’s title is itself a pastiche, pairing the innovative trademark “Technicolor” with the whimsical portmanteau “Dreamcoat.” Such twists suit Joseph’s character, since he surpassed his humble origins as a Hebrew shepherd. He turned Egypt into a massive superpower, implementing what the show calls “the first recorded rationing in history.” Joseph was on the cutting edge, just like his show.
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Broadway Maven David Benkof helps students further their appreciation of musical theater through his classes, his YouTube channel, and his Weekly Blast. Contact him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.