Anna Holloway review: Whipped cream “When You Wish”
“When You Wish…” is a frothy new collection of Disney songs and characters and short bits, held together by the dreaming imagination of a little girl. The Disney organization chose Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma City for the production’s premiere.
Singing, dancing and overall performances are all up to Lyric’s excellent standard. The performances are almost overshadowed by the design elements. Scenic designer Adam Koch’s set is an homage to the iconic Disney ride “It’s a Small World,” and for those who have been on the ride, just seeing it will bring back memories. The seemingly simple steps and boxes on stage cleverly become steps up to a sparkling sky or down to the ocean floor. The costumes are brilliant and evocative; costume designer Jeffery Meek has outdone himself working with Disney’s costume vocabulary and palette. All of the characters are recognizable; at one point, anemones and jellyfish dance through the theatre, bringing Ariel’s undersea world into the very laps of the audience.
Choreographer Ashley Wells has delivered some exciting numbers; in particular, the Mulan stick-fighting dance evokes the film without mere mimicry and is clearly a challenge for the performers. It was delivered with deliberate precision by a company that included the young dreamer; it is no easy task to design fight-dancing with people of different sizes and weights.
Many popular Disney heroines made an appearance: Snow White, Belle, Tiana, Mulan, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Pocahontas and several others. Several of their ‘princes’ also appear; Mateja Govich as Belle’s Beast was particularly affecting. Tarzan and Jane (Brandon Wood and Amy Smith) performed an aerial ballet that struck exactly the right note.
A delightful surprise was the appearance of local Native American dancer and stickball player Ace Greenwood with Native American drummer Brando. Greenwood’s powerful gift of culturally centered dance illuminated a whole segment of the Disney universe. Future productions should take note: Don’t try to fake this—locate and employ American Indian performers who can remind us that there are older cultures on this continent than the ones presented in films.
The show was held together by a simple element: a young girl, sent to bed, sneaks into her box of toys and brings out her story book. All of the succeeding experiences are held together by the child moving from story to story, sometimes observing but often participating in each. In Serena Feng, Lyric has found a powerful talent. Feng is a strong singer and dancer with a sparkling personality that has the potential to fill the stage; she also has the discipline to pull back and give the focus to others. Her performance overall threatened to steal the show but stopped short of that; a very young actor who can compete with many of Disney’s most popular characters is a rare find indeed.
With all of this technical excellence, there is not a lot of actual story. However, we don’t really need very much story. If any one of the classic Disney films referenced in the show is a light meal, then “When You Wish…” is the most fluffy and insubstantial dessert ever—with a cherry on top. The show is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long; perfect for a family evening. It plays at the Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets, call 405-524-9312 or visit lyrictheatreOKC.com.