Skip to content

Fisher’s ‘On the Record’ gives years of Disney’s best music a great voice

A cabaret show built around 64 Disney songs, many beloved and some little-known, is the bright idea behind “Disney’s On the Record.”

How well it works will be an individual matter. If “Heigh-Ho” (it’s off to work we go) gives you a nostalgic twinge, or “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” makes you feel like a child again for even an instant, you’ll be happy at the Fisher Theatre.

With sparkling production values, an attractive cast whose voices are well suited to the Disney spirit and a minimal, high-tech set, “On the Record” is designed to appeal across the generations.

But one has to wonder if children will be drawn to a show with no plot, no spoken dialogue and only an occasional gesture or raised eyebrow to indicate some character interaction.

All this, plus the severe black costumes, is fine for cabaret. But it would take a sophisticated child indeed to connect with a show that’s heavily balanced toward knock-’em-out-of-their-seats ballads and much lighter on the fun Disney fare.

A medley of nonsense songs including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins,” or “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South,” reminds us of the silly Disney many of us grew up with in the movies.

And the jazzy tempo of “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” or the iconic “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from “Pinocchio,” remind us of the rich talents behind so much of this work … and make us wonder why the theme parks inflict “There’s a Small World After All” on listeners.

Sadly, not all the ballads stand up to cabaret performance. With no story line to hide behind, the sameness of the proto-Disney song becomes annoyingly repetitive. You know this song – a fervent plea for understanding from a mermaid, or a hunchback, or an Indian princess … “I’m a wonderful person if only someone would find me.”

But to be fair, ballads such as “Some Day My Prince Will Come” or “A Whole New World” could hold their own on any stage.

And speaking of songs, here’s where the theater program is entirely inadequate. All the composers and lyricists are credited in one fat paragraph – but wouldn’t you like to know which songs were written by Elton John or Peggy Lee or Randy Newman?

The singers – Ashley Brown, Andrew Samonsky, Kaitlin Hopkins, Brian Sutherland – backed up by an able quartet of singer/dancers and a hard-working onstage band – are the major reason to see this show. Samonsky, especially, brings a much-needed offbeat element to a show that could stand to have more comic relief.

It comes down to this – would you rather see a flesh and blood person singing your Disney favorites, or an animated dwarf?

Joan Behrmann is a Metro Detroit arts writer and critic.