Friday, October 7, 2016

The Magical Music of Disney!—Portland Musical Theater Company—NE Portland

A Universal Language

This is the Premiere production for this company and it is a Revue of 60+ songs in 90 minutes from Disney musicals, created and conceived by Deanna Maio, the Founder and Executive Director for the company.  It is playing at the Chapel Theater at Mile Post 5 (the old Post 5 theatre space), 8155 NE Oregon St. (street parking only and the doorway may be a bit hard to find but it’s near the Art Haus coffee bar, so plan your time accordingly), through October 30th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-7469.

“If music is the universal language, Disney is a special dialect spoken by the young and young at heart (Maio).”  Amen…and it’s a good thing that she and I speak “Disney.”  But let me carry that thought a couple steps further.  Legend says that Pandora had a box, when released, spilled out all the Evils onto our world.  But when she finally regained control of the box, there was still one element not released…Hope.  And so, like greedy children, we embrace that element when the world is at strive, as it is now and has been for many, many years.

Disney can be compared with that last, precious element of humankind, as most of the songs in this collection/revue all reflect Hope.  It’s what the “world needs now…” and there appears to be precious little of that.  So let Disney (and Maio and her troop) transport you out of the chaos into a better place, even if only for a couple of hours.  And, perhaps, some of you will carry that message…that Hope into the larger, populated areas and it will grow.  Ambitious, Yes.  Unrealistic, Perhaps.  But impossible, “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never (Churchill).”

She (Maio) and her troop (Ashley Moore, Alexandra Habecker, Ehren Schwiebert, Erin Riha, John Knowles, Kenan G. Koenig, Rebecca Raccanelli and Sarah Thornton) whiz through songs from “Snow White…” through “Frozen,” giving us a glimpse of Disney and his magical world.  We travel from the diamond mines of the dwarves to the Arabian Nights; from the Deep South to the Frozen North; from the rooftops of London to playful puppets; from the depths of the ocean to the jungles of Africa; and from the lives of Native Americans to the loves of beauties and beasts.

They spend some time on songs from Mary Poppins, perhaps Disney’s most successful film (overall his studio has won more Academy Awards that anyone else in film history).  I have about 70 DVD’s of his films and it is certainly one of my favorites.  It also includes Disney’s favorite song, “Feed the Birds” (and one of mine) and is beautifully done by the ensemble.  One trivia fact is that the woman who plays the Bird-Woman was found in an “old folks’ home” and died shortly after the film was released.  The lady was Jane Darwell, Award-winning actress as Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, revitalized before the end, having been forgotten for years.  Perhaps another miracle of the Disney touch.

Almost all the songs are done by the ensemble as a whole but each one has one has a solo which shows off what a talented company she has.  They are all dressed in black and white, with a touch of gray, and only a minimal prop or two to expand the vision.  It is an essentially a bare stage with colored lights, but with that they can create countless worlds.  All that needs be added is the audience’s imagination.  Are you up for the challenge…to exercise that pliable brain, numbed by reality shows and incessant bombardment by infomercials of useless banalities?  If so, give yourself a treat and see this slice of Eden  amongst the concrete jungle.   Refresh your soul and find this may give you a new lease on Life.  After all, there are “no strings on [you],” right?!

I confess to a bias for Disney, having been a devoted fan for years.  And a bias for Maio, as she’s been my companion to many musicals over the past several months.  But that is because I also have a bias for talent and struggling theatres and am, without shame, a promoter of Theaters and the Arts in all their forms.  I believe Art builds character, something the world sorely needs now.  The production covers all the bases and reaffirms one’s belief in the Power of Hope.  Only one thing left to say, directions to this magical place:  “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”  It’s worth the trip!

For more on Maio, check this out:

She is an amazing, young lady, being able to marry the business and creative side of theatre, a feat not often done successfully.  Although her whole cast is talented, it’s easy to see the professional edge she has when performing.  Keep track of her progress on her site, as she has other revues coming up.  In January, Broadway of the 60’s in Newberg, and Rock & Roll from American Bandstand in the Spring at the Chapel Theater again.

Obviously I highly recommend this show.  But if you choose to see it, know that they are selling out fast, so best get tickets soon!  And children are welcome to wear costumes of their favorite Disney characters (just in time for Halloween, too).  If you do choose to see it, as always, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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