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We start by sharing some open letters with readers:
Dear Readers, I sit here at my keyboard in a state of stunned disbelief. This past weekend, I went to Disneyís California Adventure with the thought that I would see what had been done to the show at the Hyperion Theater. I heard many elements of the original version had been retained. That could be good, or it could be bad.
How bad is bad? Not unlike Pollyanna, I can usually find something to be glad about. Well, Dear Readers, thereís always a first time. I cannot play the Glad Game this time.
My first clue that I was in for it came as I sat waiting for the show to begin. I gazed up at the "new and improved" proscenium for the Hyperion Theater. Itís supposed to go with the new hip version of the show. What was innocuous before has become a third rate Claes Oldenburg imitation. If you are scratching your head, Dear Readers, wondering who Claes Oldenburg is, let me tell you. He is an artist who gained fame for his sculptures of everyday objects enlarged to gigantic proportions. A giant-sized baseball bat, for example.
And that is exactly what the Hyperionís proscenium is now, Pop Art, very bad Pop Art. The proscenium re-design consists of what looks like the rings of a spiral bound notebook with the paper torn out. It is in complete cacophony with the design of the rest of the theatre, if you ask me. I went to art school, I can make a judgment like that. Either that, or I have it all wrong. Maybe Disney is trying to be benevolent and bring us an extra dose of culture with the show, you know? A blast from the not too distant past. A splash of 1960ís era pop culture and a hip, happeniní new and improved show.
Ordinarily, Dear Readers, I would refrain from telling you every little detail of a show in one of my pieces. I am loathe to spoil it for you. Under the circumstances, though, I feel it is my duty to spoil away. I want to save you from wasting 25 precious minutes of your life on this garbage. Do something more productive with your time, please. Stand in line for a churro. Hell, stand in that 45 minute line for Super Star Limo (the other piece of drivel DCA has produced), at least you can laugh at how bad that ride is. There is nothing to laugh about at the Hyperion.
I think before I launch into 101 reasons why the new version of Disneyís Steps In Time is bad, I need to tell you what the original concept was like.
I would imagine that there arenít too many of you who saw the first version of this show, as it was axed before the previews for Disneyís California Adventure had been concluded. I was fortunate. I saw it a few times before the last performances on January 19th when the powers that be decided to throw out the baby with the bath water and start over.
The original concept was an interesting mixture of dance and song. I felt it needed some tweaking to be great, but it truly was not bad, and it certainly was not like any theme park show you have seen before. It had the potential to be innovative in its own wholesome Disney way.
It started off with a singer doing songs from Snow White and segued into a Jungle Book dance number done to I Want to Be Like You. Two singers then resumed the stage and did a very nice pop-flavored version of A Whole New World. Then, another dance number with fish-head-clad dancers who were basically doing a cat walk with a bad MTV-style video in the background. It was weird. I would have axed that number right away.
That gave way to the simplistic beauty of three singers, elegantly costumed in elaborate 18th century garb (that turned out to be a giant candelabra) for Beauty and the Beast which was followed by a street-wise (or perhaps I should say jungle- wise) semi- rap version of Hakuna Matata, which I rather liked, although I know folks who thought it was weird.
Coming into the home stretch was a lovely version of Go The Distance. It was sung by a female singer interestingly costumed in a sort of chain mail- meets- the- mummy number. That sounds strange, I know, but it worked beautifully and the singerís skill with her voice was stunning. The show ended with a montage of classic moments in Disney films and a dance number to Step In Time with pseudo- chimney sweeps.
(Above and below) Go the Distance then led to the finale, Step in Time
All that was needed to fix Disneyís Steps In Time, in my not very humble opinion, was to get rid of a couple of the badly choreographed dance numbers (I Want to be Like You and Under the Sea), and maybe weave a little tighter story into the show and add another song. You would then have had a pretty entertaining 25 minutes. The choreography in the old version was nothing to write home about, but the singers were all truly impressive.
So, what do you think Anne Hamburger did with the 1.6 million dollars she was given to improve the Hyperion show, Dear Readers? Edit, re-arrange and re-choreograph the dance numbers? Change the story line? Add new costumes? Feature the singers more prominently? Add another song number?
How about get rid of everything that was good and not only keep the bad, but heap more garbage on top, till the whole thing stinks to high heaven like a rotting dump? Try that on for size, because that is what we have ended up with.
All the singerís numbers have been cut from the show. What has been added is, a Fairy Godmother, two little boys, and a sorry excuse for a storyline. The basic story, as it exists now, involves a bratty boy who feels way too sorry for himself because he thinks his little brother is favored above him, and the Fairy Godmother who tries to bring him out of it by showing him how special he is. She shows him how special he is by abandoning him in the middle of dance number after dance number, leaving him to flounder amongst the dancers aimlessly. This flimsy thread of a story weaves together the same badly choreographed numbers that we had before and adds some of the most horrific lines of script I have heard in a long time.
(Above and below) The Fairy Godmother makes her entrance
I hear the aforementioned Anne Hamburger called in friends from New York to re-write the script and redesign the look of the show. They produced such gems as,
I donít know about you, but I pretty much find that offensive. Maybe I can live with the cornflake thing, itís just bad dialogue, but telling kids that older brothers get to harass their siblings is not a lesson I want my kids to learn. Telling my daughters that itís their job to grow up and be nagging bitches to their husbands is highly offensive. It assumes that all females are harpies who live to pick on the men of our species. Thatís not a message I want kids to learn either, because not only is it sexist, it is not true any more than it is true that boys exist to beat the living daylights out of their kid brothers. So we have violence and sexism as an example to our kids. Who wrote that? More importantly, who approved the script?
And if thatís not bad enough, whoever worked on adding a storyline to the script is even more completely clueless. Itís bad enough that they axed all the song numbers, but they took the dance numbers and layered the bratty kid into them. So, you have the older brother wandering around during the Under the Sea number, looking pretty much like a deer caught in the headlights. He doesnít seem to know where he should be on stage or what he should do. In the mean time, the fish- head- clad dancers do their best to muddle through the bad choreography they have been given and stay out of the kidís way. It all comes across as a bunch of people in fish heads milling about the stage. I know these dancers are good. Why are they made to suffer like this?
It gets worse though. I have a feeling whoever wrote this terrible script never actually read the words to Under the Sea. Let me help you with that then, you poor unfortunate soul. Under the Sea talks about being happy with what youíve got rather than wishing for something you donít have. Itís not unlike Emily finding out how glorious such an innocuous thing as a toaster is in Our Town...
, under the sea
Darling itís better down where itís wetter
Take it from me
"Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid - Lyrics by Howard Ashman - Music by Alan Menken - © 1988 Walt Disney Music Company (ASCAP) / Wonderland Music Company Inc. (BMI) - All rights reserved - International © secured
You see? You get it? The lyrics talk about it being better, safer, and happier, under the sea. Why then does Monstro the Whale come after the little brother near the conclusion of the number? Itís safer under the sea, the song says so. I understand, that plot- wise, something needed to happen to the little brother so big brother could rescue him and become a HIT (Hero In Training, another little gem from the scriptwriter. Can you guess which song, Dear Readers, that line of dialogue accompanies?), but do you not think this is a stupid way to do it considering the lyrics of the song?
And, while weíre on the subject of the two brothers, it pains me to say that the little brotherís speech is almost unintelligible. I donít know whether the boy playing him is incapable of enunciating or if he is just badly miked, but the end result is that he sounds like he is mumbling through the whole thing.
Another thing that I found quite distasteful in this new production is the Whole New World duet between the Fairy Godmother and the older brother. While I do admit I have my evil moments, for the most part, I am a pretty wholesome person. My thoughts do not turn to the, well, sicker side of things. But when I was watching the Fairy Godmother sing this song with the brother, I thought it gave a whole new meaning to the lyrics of the song, and not in a good way. It was creepy hearing the Fairy Godmother and the boy sing a love song to each other. I could maybe buy into it if it was the kidís mother singing with him, but some weird woman who drops in from the ceiling? Yuk.
What else can I say? Letís see, costumes. Horrible. The part of the Fairy Godmother at the performance I saw was played by a singer I have watched perform in various Disney shows since the days of Festival of Fools at Disneyland. She is not only a fabulous singer and performer she is also very beautiful. They have put her in the most god-awful outfit that tarnishes even her beauty. I guess the costume is the New York "fixerís" idea of the au courant Fairy Godmother, au courant if you live in the 1980ís glam rock scene, that is. She wears a wig made of scraggly pieces of orange, yellow, and red stringy bits that look like a Rastafarian gone wrong. Her short "dress" is made up of silver and red reflective medallions, and her knee- high boots look like something Frankenstein would have had been proud to own. It was sad to see. She is such a talented person, even knowing that she is prominently featured in Disneyís Steps In Time is not enough for me to want to sit through this debacle again.
The two boys who play the brothers wander around the stage (neither of them ever seem to be sure where they should be, but that is the directorís fault), dressed in what look like street clothes from Old Navy and the opening number features dancers who look as though they are on their way to clean up a toxic spill (did they know something we didnít?)
I have heard from various sources that the original version of Steps In Time cost in the neighborhood of five million dollars to produce. If that is accurate, then add the "fixís" cost of an additional 1.6 million dollars. Letís do the math together, shall we? Thatís 6.6 million dollars to get the show that you can see at Disneyís California Adventure today, (if youíve a mind to).
To put that into perspective, let me tell you that a small Broadway play costs approximately 7 million dollars to produce. You can draw your own conclusions.
Let me leave you, Dear Readers, with the words of a wise friend of mine who said to her husband who has yet to see Disneyís Steps In Time, "If you want to see it, youíre going alone. None of us are ever sitting through that show again!"
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