Your Very First Look at Disney Fantasy's Wishes

by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer

Fantasmic, Believe, Remember, Magical, Dreams.

Disney really loves using single, memorable words to name its shows—and with the introduction of Wishes on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship, Disney not only follows this tradition, but also pays respect to a popular Disney fireworks show of the same name.

With three ships now sailing and a fourth on the way next year, Disney Cruise Line outgrew its rehearsal space in Toronto, Canada, and moved last year to a new 16,000-square-foot facility in the basement of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre building. The space is just steps away from the housing where Disney performers live during their rehearsal time in Toronto, and closer to the Toronto offices of the Disney Cruise Line's Canadian sales department and consumer products division.

This week, the Walt Disney Company invited select media outlets, including MousePlanet, to this Disney Cruise Line rehearsal facility to meet and chat with the new show's creative team, including the performers.

The new Wishes stage show for the Disney Fantasy is set in Disneyland. Photo (c) Disney.

Disney Cruise Line creative director David Duffy began the morning with a presentation of A Fantasy Come True and An Unforgettable Journey, the new first-night and final-night shows created for the Fantasy. These shows are not performed on the Disney Dream because that ship sails shorter three- and four-night itineraries, but, like the Disney Magic, the Fantasy's seven-night schedule requires additional shows.

Michael Jung, Vice President of Theatrical Development for Walt Disney Imagineering, then gave a brief overview of the two already-announced shows coming to the Fantasy: Disney's Believe (currently showing on the Disney Dream) and Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular (based on the show at Disney California Adventure park), before turning the presentation over to Creative Director Dan Fields for a look at Wishes. You can watch video of the 22-minute presentation here, or keep reading for a scene-by-scene description of the new show and comments from the creative team.

The setting of new Wishes show is in Disneyland, and follows the adventures of three high school seniors as they visit the original Magic Kingdom.

Wishes includes a cast of familiar faces like Timon and Simba, along with scenes from newer Disney films like Tangled. Photo (c) Disney.

Twins Brandon and Nicole have come to Disneyland with best friend Kayla to celebrate their pending graduation. The opening number shows glimpses of the trio throughout their childhood, celebrating major milestones at Disneyland. With their adult lives about to begin, each friend struggles with a different problem: Valedictorian Kayla doesn't know what to say during her graduation speech, talented Nicole doesn't know how to break the news that her plans for the future have changed, and Brandon has a confession to make to Kayla.

Inspired by Snow White's wishing well, the friends make a wish for the "ride of our lives." Their wish is granted in classic Disney fashion, as they seemingly fall through the well, a la Alice and the rabbit hole, and land in their own wonderland.

Wishes creative director Dan Fields, with two of the costumes created for the show. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

If you've seen Disney's Believe, Disney Dreams, or the Golden Mickeys, you can probably anticipate what happens next. A series of Disney characters, starting with Timon and Simba, appear to shepherd the friends through a 40-minute journey of self-discovery. This is a musical revue, Disney-style (as Dan Fields explained to me later, Disney is all about storytelling, and they don't want to present a series of musical numbers without an overarching story thread). Fortunately for those familiar with the other Disney Cruise Line shows, Wishes mines the Disney cannon for new material, including a fantastic scene inspired by Tangled.

Even those characters we may have seen before have been updated for this production. Like Baloo in the current Disney's Believe, Timon will be an articulated character, with blinking eyes and a mouth that moves. King Louie is also an articulated character, and his troupe of Jungle Book monkeys appear next to perform "I Wanna Be Like You." The Hercules sequence incorporates particle animation, with images of the titans projected on a silk screen behind the performers.

Mulan and Kayla perform a duet of "Reflection" during the Mulan sequence. Photo (c) Disney.

Kayla's anxiety about pleasing her family serves as a perfect opening for a Mulan sequence and the song "Honor to Us All." This scene ends with a beautiful duet of "Reflection" between Kayla and Mulan, very reminiscent of the "Part of Your World" duet between Anne Marie and Ariel in Disney Dreams. During the song, images projected on the backdrop show other Disney characters—Simba, Tarzan, Ariel—who deal with their own identity issues. The computer rendering even included a placeholder image of Merida from Pixar's upcoming animated feature, Brave.

The thug costumes include hidden designs that let them reveal their dreams during the Tangled production number. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The next sequence is sure to be the hit of the show; a raucous rendition of "I've Got a Dream," set in the Snuggly Duckling Tavern from Tangled. Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, and a band of tavern thugs share their unique dreams, and encourage Kayla, Brandon, and Nicole to share theirs. The costumes for this sequence are extremely creative, with elements that let the characters each reveal their true dream during the song—one thug's chain mail tunic becomes a mime costume, another thug's shield turns into a tray of cupcakes, and a third thug conceals a love for flowers in the horns of his helmet.

Costume director Cheryl Pucci (right) shows the design book detailing every element and fabric of each costume used on the Fantasy. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Costume director Cheryl Pucci told us Wishes uses nearly 300 costumes (almost all made to order and some featuring fabrics woven exclusively for the Disney Cruise Line), 300 wigs, 115 pairs of shoes, and untold numbers of accessories. While Pucci declined to state how much this collection costs, a manifest taped to the side of one of the shipping trunks declared the contents to be worth nearly $13,000—and that was just one of 25 costume trunks being shipped to the Fantasy.

Nearly 300 costumes are used in Wishes, with some performers changing costume up to seven times during the show.. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

After Nicole confesses that her dream is to accept a dance scholarship instead of going off to college with Kayla as they'd always planned, Pinocchio arrives to help her embrace a life without strings. This arrangement of "I've Got No Strings" has a strong dance beat and fun choreography. The cast rehearsed this number during the media preview, and I was especially impressed by the performer who portrays Pinocchio. Watching him dance, I fully believed he had no strings... nor joints or tendons, so convincing were his puppet-like motions. Later, we were invited to learn just a short piece of the same routine, and came away with an even greater appreciation for the talented cast.

The Pinocchio section includes an dance-driven version of "I've Got No Strings." Photo (c) Disney.

David Duffy told us that Disney auditions thousands of performers around the world every year, selecting around 40 for each ship company. Disney Cruise Line performers frequently move on to careers on Broadway, with the most notable example being former Disney Wonder performer Jennifer Hudson, who went on to become a finalist on the American Idol TV show, as well as receive the 2006 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Dreamgirls.

Director and choreographer Darren Lee demonstrates the steps of the "I've Got No Strings" routine . Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Puppets again feature prominently in the "Kiss the Girl" scene, where Sebastian encourages Brandon to finally confess his long-time crush to Kayla. The Little Mermaid is featured in many Disney Cruise Line shows, but never this song. The watery segue sets up a Lilo and Stitch sequence, and in "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride," Kayla conquers her fear of surfing in a effect that makes it appear she is surfing on a wave of blue silk 13 feet above the stage.

Lakisha Bowen, the actress portraying Kayla in Wishes, spent time at a circus training facility in Toronto to master the flying stunt for the show. Bowen performed the role of Jasmine in the Disney California Adventure production of Aladdin, and will reprise that role in the cruise line production, as well as perform Pocahontas in Disney's Believe. She says that working up a new show is much different than learning a role in an established show, and credits Wishes writer Kirsten Childs and director/choreographer Darren Lee for including the cast and incorporating their suggestions throughout the development process as they rehearse the new production.

Actress Lakisha Bowen (right) credits Wishes writer Kirsten Childs (left) for including the opinions of the cast during development of the show. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Secrets confessed and fears conquered, it's time for the friends to leave this magical land, return to reality, and face their futures. They return to Disneyland just in time to see the nightly fireworks show. The show continues to the graduation ceremony, where Kayla gives her speech about the importance of remaining young at heart, and concludes with a graduation dance featuring the song "Breakthrough" from the Disney Channel movie Lemonade Mouth.

I found it interesting that Wishes the cruise show is explicitly set in Disneyland, especially since the Fantasy is scheduled to sail from Florida and the Wishes fireworks show was presented in Walt Disney World. Writer Kirsten Childs told me that an early concept had Kayla, Brandon and Nicole attending Grad Nite, and that Walt Disney World's decision to end their Grad Nite program forced the setting of the show to change to Disneyland. After further revisions of both the show and Disneyland's own Grad Nite offering, the script now just references the characters visiting Disneyland to celebrate their graduation.

It's impossible to review a show based on storyboard sketches, studio rehearsals, and half-completed costumes, but I very much liked what I saw of Wishes so far. Childs also wrote Disney's Believe, currently playing on the Disney Dream and coming to the Fantasy, but I'm not a big fan of that show. Where I find the emotional beats of Believe too heavy-handed (in my head, a stage manager sits in the production booth and calls "cue audience tears in 3...2...1..."), Wishes feels a bit lighter and less contrived.

The creative team and star of Wishes. (L-R) David Duffy, Dan Fields, Michael Jung, Darren Lee, Kirsten Childs, Lakisha Bowen. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product next year when the Fantasy sets sail, along with the new production of Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, the new first and final night shows, the all-new Buccaneer Blast fireworks show on pirate night, and especially the new interactive Muppet Adventure game. I needed a full eight days on the Dream to take in all of the offerings when that ship debuted last year, and it looks like there will be even more to see and do on the Fantasy.