We’d like to thank Luis Terrazas for sending us this review of “When you Wish – The Story of Walt Disney.” The show was workshoped at UCLA in 2013 and has finally opened to the public in Arizona. Let’s hear from Luis and see if this is a show we should all look forward to seeing for ourselves. . .
When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney, by Dean McClure has made its world premiere at the Phoenix Theatre. The musical closely follows other narratives that have recently been produced on Walt’s life. Most notably the film Walt Before Mickey by Armando Gutierrez & Arthur Bernstein, itself based on the Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919–1928 by Timothy S. Susanin (with forward by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney-Miller). The stage play focuses on Walt’s various financial struggles and bad deals in the early Laugh-O-Gram days, his move to California, critical success with Snow White and the animation that followed leading up to opening day of Disneyland.
McClure notes that his dream to bring Walt’s story to life stemmed from his daughter’s dream to one-day dance in a Disneyland Parade. McClure notes that he had a chance to run the work in progress by both Roy E. Disney and Diane Disney Miller and received their blessing. Unfortunately, the Disney’s never got to see McClure’s vision of the story come to life. The musical did not begin workshops at UCLA until October 2013, Just one month before Diane passed in November of the same year and several years after the passing of Roy. .
The musical has at long last made its official world premiere in the valley of the sun. This being the first showing, I didn’t go in expecting perfection but I certainly got more than I had hoped for.
McClure quotes Disney Miller as saying “I could see my dad in every scene.” In the Phoenix production this is especially true thanks to Joey Sorge, who shines as Walt Disney. From my seat in the second row. Sorge drew me in with an undeniable twinkle in his eye of childlike illusion and optimism that Walt was known for. Sorge’s mannerisms, smile, and stance all bring Walt to life without feeling like a caricature.
Matthew Malecki plays Walt’s right hand man Ub Iwerks and does so with much gusto. Malecki’s performance was vibrant and matched Sorge’s performance well. My only criticism was that Malecki wasn’t provided with more material to flesh out the role and that the character seemed more of side-character rather than the highly important figure Iwerks actually was. Again this is no fault of Malecki who did a great job with the interpretation of the material that was given to him.
The same could be said for Lillian Bounds (Disney) played capably by Sydney Marie Hawes. Hawes would be right at home playing any leading lady of that era. However, like the Iwerks character, Lillian never really gets fleshed out nor given the chance to truly shine in the production.
The highlights of the book came with hidden gems of dialogue that elicited chuckles from the audience between Walt and Roy Disney, reprised by Andy Umberger who workshopped the role. The book’s biggest pitfall is a fixation on the financial struggles of Walt Disney when in reality there were so many other issues going on in Walt’s life that could have also been highlighted to drive the story forward.
The musical and dance numbers were engaging throughout the bulk of the show. The stand out number in my eyes was the catchy “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” performed by the ensemble and the closing “When you Wish” which would fit in perfectly at any current Disney park production.
The crowning glory of the show, that really pulled at my heart strings, was the moment Walt Disney recited those famous words: “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land…” Backed by the ensemble at his side in various abstract representations of Disneyland cast members, Sorge delivered these famous lines perfectly, matching Walt’s original delivery and generating a swell of emotion and tears from yours truly.
Overall the production of “When You Wish” delivers a very enjoyable night of theatre. While the book itself still needs a little polish, if it hopes to reach Broadway someday, the initial production at the Phoenix Theatre does a very admirable job capturing the magic of Walt Disney thanks to the enthusiastic cast that seems to be truly enjoying playing homage to a man whose legacy no doubt inspired a lot of the young cast to pursue careers in acting and the arts.
When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney runs through June 12th at the Phoenix Theatre. Tickets start at $30 and are available for purchase by phone at 602.254.2151 or by visiting phoenixtheatre.com