Music Review




BBC Radio 2 Celebrates

The Music of Disney


BBC Radio 2 Celebrates the Music of Disney.

From left to right: Drew Sarich, Ashley Brown, Adam Pascal, Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, Heather Headley, Josh Groban, Kerry Butler, Tituss Burgess, Larry Blank, Maria Freidman, Matt Rawle.


With Host Josh Groban


The BBC Concert Orchestra


Ashley Brown, Tituss Burgess, Kerry Butler, Maria Friedman, Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, Matt Rawle, Drew Sarich


Lyceum Theatre


December 8, 2008






A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Like many children the world over who grew up on a colourful diet of cartoons and bed time stories, the stories I loved most were fairytales, often brought to life by the visionary imagination of Walt Disney.  As an artist of unparalleled skill, innovation and observation, Disney had, within his seemingly magical powers, the ability to create animated features that charmed not only children, but adults as well.  However, it is often easy to forget that most of these films, beginning with Snow White in 1939, and spanning the, all told, seventy years of Disney activity to the present day contain at least one memorable song, such as that all time sentimental favourite and Academy Award Winner, ‘When You Wish upon a Star,’ from Pinocchio (1940), another cinematic gem from The Golden Age of Animation.

This delightful show features the wonderful 70 piece BBC Concert Orchestra, along with some of the brightest stars in the West End and Broadway firmaments, singing some of the most sparkling and dreamy songs from the lengthily Disney canon. I speak about this show in the present tense, because you too will have a chance to enjoy this concert for yourself as it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Boxing Day!

‘International superstar’/unassuming  singer extraordinaire Josh Groban will be your amiable host as you revisit favourite cinematic storybook moments from your own childhoods, and, more than likely, if you are so blessed, those of your children’s as well.  Groban has been in the public’s eye and ear since his career was launched on U.S. TV series Ally Mc Beal in 2001, after which he went on to score a double-platinum selling hit with his debut album, and win a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal with the single ‘You Raise Me Up’ from his second album. The song ‘Believe’ as performed by Groban in the 2005 film Polar Express was nominated for an Academy Award.

But, first I must cite the overture, as arranged by BBC Orchestra conductor, Larry Blank, the initial  strains of which touched, ever so lightly and, tantalizingly on ‘When You Wish upon a Star,’ before launching into one familiar melody after another, among them, the title song from the Oscar nominated film Beauty and the Beast, (the only animation ever nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category), ‘Bare Necessities’ from Jungle Book and, dare I attempt to spell it, ‘Super-cali-fragilistic-expiali-docious’ from Mary Poppins, as well as ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin, any or all of which seemed tailor made for musical theatre, and all of which inspired wild cheers and rapturous applause from the international audience.

The concert, staged in London’s Lyceum Theatre, where Disney’s The Lion King has been packing the house for a decade fittingly opens with a thrilling rendition of ‘Circle of Life’ from that show, starring its gifted cast.  These talented singers collectively, send shivers up spines without the aid of any backing music, apart from the soft thuds of occasional hand drums or jingling of percussive instruments, and a vocal conductor, who helps keep voices aloft from the orchestra pit. After this superb opening, which, not only confirmed that musical theatre has come a long way, but also, that some of the newer material in the lengthily Disney songbook is among its best, the show moved onto a stellar group of sets pairing the oh so fine BBC Orchestra with some of today’s top musical theatre stars.

Like all the great artists the world has ever known, Walt Disney fought for his dreams. For, although his first feature length animation was argued against by his family and fellow animators alike, Disney persisted and the resulting film generated gold, in the form of one full size Oscar and seven little ones! This lead into the lovely, in the longingly lilting way of a teenage girl’s perspective, ‘Someday my Prince Will Come,’ from Snow White, which would have first met the public’s ears just as America was easing it’s way out of the Great Depression. Allies in song, Kerry Butler, who made her Broadway debut as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and recently garnered a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a musical for her role in Xanadu in New York and Matt Rawle, who currently plays Zorro in the Gypsy King’s musical of the same name at London’s Garrick Theatre each sang a number from Disney’s folly, as Snow White was originally termed, Rawle’s countering number being ‘Once Upon a Dream.’

In between performances, host Groban offered some interesting tid-bits about Disney’s career, one little known fact being that the genius animator had long been interested in creating a full length feature of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, The Little Mermaid, but had shelved the idea in favour of Pinocchio, which, along with Fantasia, were both produced in 1940.

The actor who plays the character Sebastian the Crab, (whom Groban termed an ‘under-water Jiminy Cricket’), Tituss Burgess, in Broadway’s production of The Little Mermaid obliged with a spirited rendition of one of the livelier numbers from the show, during which the orchestra gave it their all, making it easy to imagine Burgess’ performance in the show. That particular performance also caused one to think about how amazing it is that songs of such calibre originally accompanied animations. Following this animated interlude, we were treated to the first ever U.K. performance of a song especially created for the show’s New York staging, ‘If Only’ performed from the perspectives of various characters in the show by Broadway star Adam Pascal, who appeared in the Tim Rice/Abba musical Chess at London’s Royal Albert Hall (2004), stateside singer Drew Sarich, who made his West End debut as Quasimodo in the World Premiere of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, along with Kerry Butler and Tituss Burgess. But still more exciting firsts were to come! For from Disney’s current feature film, Enchantment came the beauteous song ‘True Love’s Kiss’ (That’s How You Know), courtesy of Broadway’s first Mary Poppins, Ashley Brown, who like Kerry Butler, has also played Belle in New York’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

The enchanting song, ‘When Somebody Loved Me’, from the animated film Toy Story 2 was very movingly performed to a lone guitar accompaniment by Heather Headley, who has also appeared as Nala in the original cast of Disney’s Tony Award winning musical, The Lion King. Ms. Headley seemed the epitome of class and elegance in her long taffeta gown, and from the powerfully mesmerising sound of her voice, her performance is sure to be one of the highlights of your Boxing Day listening.

 From Disney’s live action and animation film, Pete’s Dragon emerged a lovely song entitled ‘Candle on the Water,’ which the inimitable Maria Friedman delivered with her usual feeling and warmth. The senior member of the singing cast of this show, Friedman demonstrated, as she has always done whenever I’ve seen her, just why she became and, remains a huge West End and Broadway star.

Tituss Burgess returned to the stage to treat Disney and Jungle Book fans to a buoyant rendition of ‘Bare Necessities,’ with the orchestra keeping pace behind him. Burgess sang his lines as he was reading them, making one think about just how exciting ‘live’ radio performances must have been.  Next, came a song which had been a chart topper, ‘A Whole New World,’ from Aladdin, sung with great passion by two time Grammy nominee Heather Headley and Adam Pascal, who together seemed to bring the song to new heights, filing in each others gaps with lilting lyrical  moments to savour. Part one of this highly enjoyable programme closed with Drew Sarich’s inspiring performance of ‘Out There’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a role he himself had originated in the West End. Sarich’s emotive delivery and physicality on this number, not only generated compassion for his character, but also, conjured up strong visual images of his circumstances and Parisian surroundings.

The Lion King cast, in colourful costumes opened the second half of the show, performing a soaring acapella number, designed to resonate in one’s consciousness as subtly as the rhythm of a heartbeat. Apart from two box seated musicians tapping what appeared to be wooden sticks together for tempo, the singers only other ‘accompaniment’ was the flock of silken birds they waved high above our heads.

The dynamic duo of Heather Headley and Adam Pascal returned to sing, ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ and ‘Stranger Like Me,’ from Phil Collins composed score of Tarzan, once again proving that the most innocent of material can, given the right components, make for an electrifying performance. It wasn’t just the stunning vocals of Headley and Pascal combined, but also their stage presences and fine acting abilities which made them such a pleasure to watch. This definitive pair performed their songs with the orchestra rising to the occasion behind them, lowering their tone and volume for slower segments and springing into the more upbeat parts of the songs with great gusto!  

Drew Sarich once again touched the audiences’ hearts with his emotive rendition of a lament of teenage longing,  ‘When There Was Me and You’ from the High School Musical series of films, which have become something of a worldwide phenomena in recent years. Ashley Brown and Kerry Butler then upped the tempo with their give and take handling of a Sunny Bert and Peggy Lee classic from Lady and the Tramp, ‘He’s a Tramp,’ during which the ever feisty Ms. Brown held the trump cards.

Another memory laden overture which harkened back to the ‘Golden Age’ of hand drawn animation in the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s brought smiles of delight all round, with ballads and bouncier numbers in equal measure, among them, ‘Heigh-Ho’, (It’s Off to Work We Go) and ‘Whistle While You Work,’ from Snow White, ‘Love is a Song’ from Bambi and many other treasures, which you will be able to hear for yourself on the radio on Boxing Day!

Maria Friedman, ever one of the definitive experts when it comes to bringing out the emotive layers of a song, inspired with her expressive renditions of ‘A Change in Me’ and the title song from Beauty and the Beast, as did Heather Headley and Adam Pascal during their final numbers, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ the signature ballad of The Lion King and ‘Written in the Stars’ from Disney’s Aida, the latter of which was performed for the first time on the British stage. A lively medley of favourites from Mary Poppins,  as performed by Ashley Brown and Matt Rawle, offered a fine opportunity for the crowd to clap along, as both Brown and Rawle smiled their way through one upbeat number after another. 

Host Josh Groban, whom we hadn’t yet heard from, apart from via quips of Disney history between performances offered the ultimate high point of the evening when he launched into an ever so familiar, but simply unforgettable full orchestral arrangement of the beloved ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ which, he’d told the audience beforehand, had been ‘misfiled and long thought lost for 70 years’. This very special arrangement hadn’t been performed anywhere since 1939, when it was done so for the soundtrack of Pinocchio!  If glistening eyes in an audience are anything to go on, it’s a sure thing that those hearing Groban’s achingly beautiful performance of this long buried arrangement will never forget it.  Neither will you, if you tune into BBC Radio 2 for this magical programme of Disney treasures on December 26th! 





BBC Radio 2 Celebrates the Music of Disney

Host Josh Groban

Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved


Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved