Live on stage, Paper Mill Playhouse premieres a new Disney musical revue, perfectly timed for the season “A Jolly Holiday: Celebrating Disney’s Broadway Hits.” Set at a holiday party on a stage festooned with presents, Christmas trees, a heart, menorahs, five insanely talented performers sing and dance to your heart’s delight. I defy you to resist singing along, tapping your feet, clapping or beaming ear to ear beneath your mask.
The cast of five includes theatrical veterans Major Attaway (Aladdin), Dan DeLuca (Newsies), Kara Lindsay (Wicked), Jarran Muse (Motown) and Kissy Simmons (Lion King). These multi-talented performers take the audience through greatest hits from Disney’s theatrical trove – Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Mary Poppins and Frozen. Each brings a breezy charm, solid vocals, sizzling harmonies and unique presence to the evening.
You can’t go wrong with veteran’s who clearly enjoy performing owning the stage with delectable takes on songs they like. Audiences will be richly rewarded with familiar, well-orchestrated, lilting versions of their favorites.
Each performer is gifted and slotted into songs almost too expectedly by director Casey Hushion. One can almost feel the performers wanting to tap in and take a classic in a different direction a la Freestyle Love Supreme. But their honest, forthright, soaring vocals are pitch perfect, pert and delightful. Simmons brings a lovely strength and passion to her numbers, but I wish she had more solos. Attaway’s lightsome personality shines through. Lindsday sings with reverence and faithfulness to her material. Muse is personable, and brings fervor to his numbers, especially duets with Simmons and “Out There” from Hunchback. And DeLuca has a unique singular presence best utilized throughout the evening.
The evening does feel a bit overstuffed with each show getting its own section versus a more natural building or flow of the songs. So in that and the holiday spirit, I let the criticism go as that structure would require more of a script challenge for book author Sandy Rustin. Here we are peppered with non-sequitors of Disney facts and scant biographical leanings versus insight into song development or storyline.
But one does wish for a bit of risk taking in the arrangements – maybe a slower, blusier or rock take versus the as heard on Broadway versions. We get a hint of this what if with DeLuca’s “My Strongest Suit” from Aida which is normally sung by ladies. Or even re-orchestrating for other, unexpected voices to take lead on some numbers. We’ve heard pert versions, how about some grit and risk on “Supercalifagillisticexpialidocious”?
When you’ve got Broadway vets, the adult audience should be more richly rewarded with varied takes on classics. Why can’t Kizzy Simmons or Major Attaway take lead on “Part of Your World” or two men sing “Love is an Open Door”?
A Jolly Holiday features smooth choreography by Kenny Ingram (Emojiland, Paper Mill's Songs for a New World), solid, slick music supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements by Jim Abbott (Disney's Tarzan on Broadway, Mrs. Doubtfire) and pitch perfect music direction by Geoffrey Ko (Broadway's Be More Chill), who conducts. The production features a cool party scenic design by Kelly James Tighe (Paper Mill's Beauty and the Beast) and excellent lighting design by Charlie Morrison (Paper Mill's West Side Story). Who can complain about a rainbow bright tree and coordinated lighting (green for Tarzan?)
The show is a perfect two-hour bauble for its core Disney lover and family audience. You get all the hits performed in straightforward, entertaining, loving ways that are embraceable, energetic, and effervescent. What more can one ask for this jolly holiday season?
Tickets and more information at papermill.org. The production runs until January 2, 2022.
Photos by Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made