Disney Broadway, Uptown — Fantasia, Live! at Lincoln Center

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Row DD, Seat: 22.Lincoln pic

As I sat in my Orchestra seat listening to the iconic New York Philharmonic tune their instruments, I imagined Walt looking down on this scene from Heaven with a boyish grin on his face. (How else would he be, anyway?)   For while his initial idea of a seven-track, thirty –speaker sound system proved too expensive to use in wide release way back in 1940, having his “Concert Feature,” Fantasia, performed “live” at Lincoln Center all these years later must have seemed like an acceptable alternative, to say the least.   Fantasia 3

Lincoln Center.  The grand center for performing arts at the intersection of Columbus Ave. and Broadway, roughly fifteen blocks north of where Disney Theatricals made its original stamp on New York City theater: the Palace Theater, site of Beauty and the Beast, the Musical’s iconic Broadway run.  This was the place where I was about to experience the inimitable New York Philharmonic perform selections from both incarnations of Fantasia (1940 and 1999) — a magical afternoon which was sure to evoke all of the contradictory sensations one gets when experiencing the blend of fairy-land Disney and the mean streets of New York City…yet at the same time certainly knowing this performance would demonstrate once again Disney’s theatrical impact on the City.Fantasia 2

And yet, even considering this, up here in the Avenue 60’s, one can’t deny that tastes are a little higher. The libations a little bubblier.  The orchestras a little bigger.  The restaurant bills…well, they’re the same, but you get the point. And interestingly, Christopher Finch, in his influential book The Art of Walt Disney: from Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms, states, “(Walt) Disney did not have pretensions toward high culture.  He did not claim any deep knowledge of classical music, but according to his daughter Diane, he enjoyed it tremendously.”        Huh.   Walt didn’t necessarily produce Fantasia in 1940 because of any dedication to high art?   If his intentions were anything less dignified, was this afternoon of Upper-Broadway entertainment a farce?

The answer to the latter is, “Fuhgettaboutit.”

Here’s why:

Finch also notes that the original motive for Fantasia lay not in classical music first, per se, but with Mickey Mouse himself.  In the 30’s, Finch notes, Donald Duck was becoming more and more of a scene-stealer .  Not to totally outdo his #1 star, Walt tasked his team with creating a vehicle for Mickey on the big screen;  the result was an idea to star Mickey in an animated interpretation of Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – a classical piece inspired by the ancient fairy tale motif Goethe made popular in his poetry.Walt 2
Additionally, the length of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice piece was twice the length of one of Mickey’s typical shorts – “thus allowing for leisurely storytelling and substantive character development.”Walt 1
This is where Disney’s mastery trumps any “intentional” propensity for “high art.”

Whatever the motive, the characters of Fantasia were the hit of this afternoon and proved this film’s worth.  Seventy-five years after its initial release, this live performance of Fantasia demonstrated the “concert feature’s”  true magic through its brilliant visual story-telling and universal character.

Sure, the highlight of the performance was the approving murmur heard from the crowd as our hero Mickey first appeared on screen in the Sorcerer’s sequence,  but in this overall abstract animated feature,  laughter, gleeful sighs, and audible smiles could be heard quite clearly over the beautiful performance of the Philharmonic when a few brilliantly-crafted characters were portrayed – most notably,  the drunken man in the Pastoral sequence and the dancing hippos, ostriches, and elephants in the Dance of the Hours.Walt 5
Being New York City, I heard many tongues speaking various languages in the house of David Geffen Hall, but once Conductor Joshua Gersen’s baton was raised and these characters emerged, the universality of the visual storytelling prompted us to all laugh and sigh in one common chorus.
It was beautiful.Walt 10

And while I have heard myriad definitions of what “art” truly is, isn’t it kind of nice to think that the highest form of all art is to bring people together in joy, peace, and common understanding?

“High art” or not, the audience at Lincoln Center buzzed and responded appreciatively to this one-of-a-kind performance.

And among the laughs, if one tried really hard, one might have heard the distant, proud chuckle of Walt from above.Walt 8

***** Note: Below is a transcript of the selection sequence from the performance Playbill. *****

Disney’s “Fantasia”: Live in Concert Joshua Gersen, Conductor Selections from Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000 (1999)
1. Beethoven (1770-1827) – Allegro con brio, from Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1804-08)
2. BeethovenSelections from Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, Pastoral (1808);  Allegro: Merry Gathering of Country Folk;  Allegro: Thunderstorm;  Allegretto: Shepherd’s Song / Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm
3. Tchaikovsky (1840-93) – Selections from The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a (1892) Walt 3
4. Debussy (1862-1918) orch. L. Stokowski – Clair de lune, from Suite bergamasque (1890/1905)
5. Dukas (1865-1935) – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897)
— Intermission –
6. Ponchielli (1834-86) – Dance of the Hours, from La Dioconda (1874-76)
7. Elgar (1857-1934) adapt. P. Schickele – Pomp and Circumstance, adapted from Pomp and Circumstance  Military Marches, Op. 39, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 (1901-1907)
8. Stravinsky (1882-1971) – Selections from The Firebird Suite (1919 version)Disney’s “Fantasia”: Live in Concert Joshua Gersen, Conductor Selections from Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000 (1999)
1. Beethoven (1770-1827) – Allegro con brio, from Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1804-08)
2. BeethovenSelections from Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, Pastoral (1808);  Allegro: Merry Gathering of Country Folk;  Allegro: Thunderstorm;  Allegretto: Shepherd’s Song / Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm Walt 7
3. Tchaikovsky (1840-93) – Selections from The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a (1892)
4. Debussy (1862-1918) orch. L. Stokowski – Clair de lune, from Suite bergamasque (1890/1905)
5. Dukas (1865-1935) – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897)
— Intermission –
6. Ponchielli (1834-86) – Dance of the Hours, from La Dioconda (1874-76)
7. Elgar (1857-1934) adapt. P. Schickele – Pomp and Circumstance, adapted from Pomp and Circumstance  Military Marches, Op. 39, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 (1901-1907)
8. Stravinsky (1882-1971) – Selections from The Firebird Suite (1919 version)

Works Consulted:
a. “Disney Fantasia Live In Concert.” Playbill May 2016: 29-40. Print.
b. Finch, Christopher. The Art of Walt Disney; from Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1973. Print.

*Photos of Lincoln Center c/o author’s personal collection. Artwork pictures c/o Christopher Finch and Walt Disney Productions.

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Rich is an 8th grade teacher in New Jersey.  His favorite restaurant on the planet is the 50’s Prime Time Café…’nuff said.

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