“When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ May 30, 2016


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Walt Disney was a creative genius but you’d never know it from the mundane Phoenix Theatre world premiere production of “When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney.”  The sloppy and sappy Dean McClure musical has an insipid book that doesn’t capitalize on any of Disney’s dynamic entertainment creations or use any of his movie musical themes due to copyright restrictions.  The show even makes his famously supportive relationship with wife Lillian inconsequential.  Trivial lyrics make Disney’s life innocuous, while pedestrian songs pale in comparison to Disney’s musical masterpieces.  Interestingly, the playwright isn’t even credited on the program’s title page, a telling deletion.

The musical relates Disney’s entertainment career triumphs as well as his misses but in a drab biographical essay that is unworthy of its subject and lacks Disney’s bristling temper.  Much of Disney’s success rested on the people around him but none of the characters here seem remarkable, exciting, or filled with ideas.  Considering there is nothing ordinary about Disney, the playwright even fails to capture his well documented explosiveness and Disney’s famous outbursts are never witnessed.

Author McClure paints a fascinating life as mundane.  For example, the only thing you see of Disney’s extraordinary theme park is an overlay map that makes the magic kingdom ordinary so the park never becomes a real place that brings joy to millions annually.

Even director Larry Raben and choreographer Lee Martino’s uninspired staging detract from stimulating anything exciting.  Cheap sets and routine period costumes leave nothing to stimulate the eye that searches in vain for color and to see Disney’s elaborate excesses.  Again, due to copyright limitations, there are no Interjections from his movies but such critical material could have helped the show blossom visually.

Joey Sorge struggles valiantly to make Disney spellbinding but the show gives him nothing so a flat and listless Disney is the result.  T. J. Rossi’s Young Walt fails to suggest that this child is headed for a remarkable creative career.  Disney relied on brother Roy to provide the business stability to balance the showman’s expensive ideas but Andy Umberger plods around with reflective evasiveness so his importance to Disney’s success is lost.  Sydney Marie Hawes’ Lillian fades awkwardly into the story.

“When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney” paints a fascinatingly dynamic man as an ordinary person who just happens to develop a myriad of clever ideas that push him to success.  “When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney” continues through June 12.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theater box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D