Let’s talk about Disney musicals, shall we?

Aladdin. A musical where the guy gets the girl, a blue genie is the ultimate wingman, and sparkles glisten EVERYWHERE.

I can only imagine how much glitter and sequins are left over after this show because my golly, did it sparkle.

Now, just a warning, I feel a bit mixed towards Disney-produced musicals.

Here’s why.

With Aladdin, I can see an extravagant production, with technologically challenging sets, detailed costumes, the whole shebang. Every child that has ever seen the animated film and loved it, wants to see this story brought to life. And a lot of adults that may not see much Melbourne theatre, all flock towards a show that has come from Broadway, or is familiar to them. You see the sparkles, the upbeat overture used in advertisements, and the reviews on the billboards. It’s enticing and captivates attention.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 1.44.21 PM
Hey! It’s me!

On the other hand, I can see a show that has such a large budget and revenue, that I have no doubt would fund majority of the independent theatre companies and theatre practitioners in Melbourne. Attention detracted from homegrown, original theatre that characterises the Melbourne arts scene.

I assume that there’d be audience members that think these highly commercialised productions such as Aladdin are all that Melbourne theatre has to offer.

You think of those families that come into town from wherever they reside, to see a show only for a special occasion. More often than not, they’ll see a show that has had more funds go into its advertising campaign than an entire independent theatre’s budget for a year. (I don’t know the numbers for that, or if I’m correct, but I’m just saying it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case).

You think back to The Lion King. That show has been running for nearly 20 years on Broadway. It has since come to Melbourne TWICE in that time. Now, I do have a slight soft spot for The Lion King – it was my first musical at age 5, and is a similar case for many other people. I saw it again when it came back a couple of years ago.

That show had so much success, but in all honesty, there is less focus on the performances and characters, and waaaaay more focus on how it looks, the spectacle and all visual elements. It is Disney’s way of evoking the same feeling that an animated film may give a young child. It’s fantasy, captivating for young eyes and makes you wonder ‘how do they do that?’. I appreciated that same feeling in Aladdin, and often found myself sitting there reflecting upon the construction and development of such beautiful stagecraft elements.

However, to me, this means a distraction from what truly lies at theatre’s core – performance, character and story. How much would you take away from The Lion King or Aladdin with all of the bells and whistles removed? Would you feel compelled to see it again, relive and relate to the emotion of the characters?

Quite simply, no. I wouldn’t. It’s based on children’s animations. It’s not meant to make you wrack your brains or think philosophically. It’s surface, laughs are easy, and plots are simple. This is not bad, but like my mum said afterwards, “I feel like I’ve just watched two hours of Saturday morning cartoons… which I used to love, but it gets repetitive”.

My mum also asked me a good question after seeing Aladdin the other night. It was along the lines of asking why well-known Australian performers aren’t in Disney productions.

Here’s my theory (not really a theory but more my attempt at an answer):

The shows don’t need their natural enhancement, their name, or their unique talent to fill roles.

There aren’t standout roles in shows like Aladdin or The Lion King that you sit and think “Wow, I’d love to see ________ play Aladdin/Jasmine/Simba”. They aren’t overly different, and don’t require an Australian name/talent to be portrayed well.

Probably the only exception to diversity of character is Genie. I freaking love that character. It is my dream male role, because it’s just so fun! However, even Genie’s played by a non-Australian! The show is not being sold on its familiarity with Australian stars, unlike other shows – it is sold by the spectacle. The Disney name. The recognition of storyline. And most of all, the appeal to families.

This is not a bad thing, and to be frank I don’t know where this article/rant is really going. I guess I just want to say that expensive musicals exported from Broadway are not an honest representation of all that theatre in Melbourne has to offer. I certainly don’t think that they’re all that people should see, either. I understand their appeal, however, what I would hate to see is the identity of Melbourne theatre turn into surface stage adaptations of animated films, whose technicality lies in its ‘wow factor’.

– Nesceda

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