Review: ‘Disney’s Broadway Hits’ at Wolf Trap

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As the summer humidity abates a bit, what better way to enjoy a summer evening than with a concert full of classic Disney songs at Wolf Trap? Disney’s “Broadway Hits” concert on Thursday, August 9, 2018, featuring various stars from the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Tarzan as well as the Wolf Trap Orchestra under the baton of Jim Abbott, was a perfect event for the summer night, as Broadway powerhouses wowed their crowd with their renditions of classic (and new) favorite Disney songs from various Disney theatrical productions.

In celebration of over 20 years of Disney on Broadway, this event featured songs from nine of Disney’s stage productions, including music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Newsies, the Hunchback of Notre Dame), Phil Collins (Tarzan), and Elton John (Aida, The Lion King). Performing these timeless classics and new favorites were Broadway favorites Josh Strickland (Tarzan in Tarzan), Kissy Simmons (Nala in The Lion King), Alton Fitzgerald White (King Mufasa in The Lion King), and Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins).

The night opened with “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast, as Fitzgerald White (joined by Simmons, Brown, and Strickland) welcomed the audience. The song set the tone for the night: fun and casual, but with serious Broadway vocal power. There were multiple sing-alongs and even dance-alongs, as the audience was invited to get to their feet and dance to “Under the Sea” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” where the singers were having just as much fun as the audience was.

There were lots of songs with pop inflections, specifically with Strickland and Simmons knocking it out of the park on “Beauty and the Beast” and “You’ll Be In My Heart.” Simmons’s throaty powerhouse was on full display as well in the Aida anthem “Easy as Life”, as she dug deep and showed the intense emotion the song demanded while not compromising on vocal power or fireworks. Similarly, Strickland’s performance of “My Strongest Suit” had the audience rolling in the aisles as he preened and strutted across the stage, while still hitting those high notes right on the money.

Fitzgerald White has been playing King Mufasa in The Lion King for over 4000 performances, and it was clear tonight why—his smooth yet sonorous voice gave “If I Can’t Love Her” a new plaintiveness, and imbued “This Long Long Day” from Alan Menken’s King David with a dignity and majesty that must also be apparent in his portrayal of King Mufasa on Broadway. Similarly, Brown’s clear-as-a-bell soprano yet dynamo high notes made such power ballads as “A Change in Me” or “Part of Your World” seem new and fresh again.

One of the joys of this concert was seeing the actors reprise songs from roles they originated on Broadway: seeing Brown (the original Broadway Mary Poppins) sing an emotionally gutting “Feed the Birds,” or Strickland (the original Broadway Tarzan) jumping with curiosity and practically vibrating with intensity during “Strangers Like Me.”

The night closed with a new arrangement of “Let It Go” that included all four singers and had the audience jumping to their feet with applause at the end.  With reinterpretations of some of Disney’s biggest hits on Broadway, and in such a lovely setting as the Filene Center at Wolf Trap, Disney’s Broadway Hits was a fun, relaxing way to spend a beautiful summer’s evening.  If only all concerts could make it seem so easy and fun!

Running time: Two hours, including a 20-minute intermission.

Disney’s Broadway Hits played for one night only on Thursday, August 9, 2018, at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts– 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To see a list of upcoming events at Wolf Trap and purchase tickets, go online.

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