The music of Disney is one of the most significant elements in all of its entertainment mediums – motion pictures, animated features, theme parks and theater.  The D23 Expo certainly had no shortage of music as two exciting concerts took place – Broadway and Beyond: Celebrating the Stars of Disney on Broadway presented by Disney Theatrical Productions on Friday August 9 and Richard M. Sherman & Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook on Saturday August 10.

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Broadway and Beyond kicked off the evening with a performance of Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast with the performers of the evening’s presentation (all performed previously in a Disney theatrical production):

  • Heidi Blickenstaff (Ursula in The Little Mermaid)
  • Ashley Brown (originated Mary Poppins on Broadway)
  • Merle Dandridge (Kala in Tarzan)
  • Josh Strickland (originated Tarzan on Broadway)
  • Alton Fitzgerald White (Mufasa in The Lion King)

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Thomas Schumacher, president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions, walked onstage and introduced the small onstage ‘orchestra’ as well as the individual performers, who each sat in their chairs until it was their moment(s) to perform.  The songs were a mix of songs that originated from the motion pictures and songs specifically written for the theater.

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Songs from favorites  Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins and Newsies were performed, along with selections from Aida and King David, which were not based on any Disney picture.  Der Glockner Von Notre Dame, a German production based on Hunchback of Notre Dame, was also included in the mix.  Standouts of the evening were Made of Stone from ‘Notre Dame’, performed by Strickland, My Strongest Suit from Aida, also performed by Strickland channeling a spoiled princess, Poor, Unfortunate Souls from The Little Mermaid, performed by Blickenstaff, and especially Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins, performed by Brown, who received a standing ovation and apparently drove Richard Sherman (the song’s co-author, present in the audience) to tears.

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The evening concluded with the five performers singing Somebody’s Got Your Back from a still under-development production of Aladdin.

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Richard M. Sherman & Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook featured Sherman and Menken showcasing their iconic Disney hits in their own separate, individual sets.  The 2 1/2 hour concert featured over 40 songs from five plus decades of Disney entertainment.

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Richard Sherman, half of the legendary Sherman Brothers songwriting duo, started the evening with songs from the Annette Funicello era, including Tall Paul, and recalled a story when Funicello, after begin given the songs Hawaiiannette, Italiannette and Dance Annette by the brothers, joked that “kitchenette” would be coming next.

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Sherman continued with a variety of tunes from the Sherman songbook, including songs written for the theme parks (The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room and There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow) and television (The Wonderful World of Color).  In the latter case, Sherman was asked if he ever thought that his song would wind up as the theme song for a hit show in the parks (referring, of course, to The World of Color at Disney California Adventure).  Sherman answered that he wasn’t surprised since “Disney songs will last forever”.

Sherman continued to play, with anecdotes in between, including one for The Ugly Bug Ball from the lesser known 1963 Disney feature Summer Magic.  Walt Disney originally objected to the word “ugly” in the title, to which the brothers explained, “a guy rhinoceros looks at a girl rhinoceros and says, ‘Why, that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’ ”  Walt agreed.

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Sherman performed a set from Mary Poppins, including Walt’s favorite song, Feed the Birds.  Sherman recalled that during one of their regular meetings, Walt simply looked out of his office window and said, “Play it,” requesting that the brothers perform the song for him with the piano.

After Sherman ended his set with an encore and exited the stage, Menken appeared and sat at the piano, kicking things off with his first Disney hit Part of Your World (which he co-wrote with the late Howard Ashman) from The Little Mermaid.  Menken continued the evening with selections from the Disney animated hits of the 90’s, including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Menken went through a large amount of songs, rather briskly, but never in a hurried or uncaring manner.  Menken even joked that he might have a stroke, as he fanned himself with his sheet music.

Menken even covered his lesser known Disney catalogue, including Will the Sun Ever Shine Again? from Home on the Range (Menken joked that the movie being about cows did it for him), and a slightly raunchy tune from the ABC television comedy The Neighbors.

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After Menken’s encore, Sherman joined him onstage for a “final kiss good night to the audience”.  Menken performed A Whole New World from Aladdin, moved aside and allowed Sherman to perform a song that he felt people wanted to “kill him” for writing – It’s a Small World.  Menken and the entire audience joined in the singing, capping a historical evening of music.

(photos copyright 2013 Disney)