IVINS — When You Wish is a compilation of Disney songs set to a story based around a little girl, played by Afton Grace Higbee, who has many dreams of Disney characters as she sleeps that encompass her own hopes, fears, and wishes as she explores the magical, musical world of Disney. Written by many different Disney composers throughout the years, it is an original production that is arranged and orchestrated for Tuacahn by Jim Abbott, directed and choreographed by Jeffry Denman, and under the music direction of Cameron Kinnear. First mounted in 2015, it was announced at the beginning of the evening that the production had undergone some significant rewrites since that time due to feedback from critics and audience members, and that it serves as the heart of the Disney songbook and the ability to wish and dream. My own feedback for this new production is that it could be even a little longer, with songs from The Lion King or Frozen included, or at least that is what my two daughters mentioned after it was over.
Young actress Higbee as the little girl dreaming throughout the show makes a Tuacahn debut. Her ability to captivate the audience and then quickly take second stage while the story line shifts to whatever character was taking over next was truly impressive and showed a stage wisdom beyond her years.
I had been told from those who had seen When You Wish in years past that they had felt the transitions to be choppy, but I found in this version, the choppiness must have been cleared up. Not only did I find smooth transitions from different classic Disney shows, but I also found some amusing twists and turns that were unexpected, amusing, and downright clever in their choices. It would be impossible to name each and every soloist in a short review of a compilation production, but there are a few things that stand out. First are the technical elements of set design by Brad Shelton, projection design by Brad Peterson, costume design by Maria Lenn, and aerial choreography by Cees De Kok. It is honestly not a simple feet to try to blend 15 different iconic Disney shows seamlessly with any sense of order, yet director Denman seems to have done so with the help of these tech masters. The challenge for costuming in this production to turn a few players into dozens of different characters is not unnoticed, and Lenn does a fantastic job of making the costumes realistic and memorable. The elements listed have combined to create the best evening I have personally had at Tuacahn, one that moved quickly enough that I would have personally preferred to have even more songs and more show representation.
A couple actors starred as a few of the strongest highlights of the evening. Garyon Judon as Baloo from The Jungle Book was an absolute delight singing, “The Bare Necessities.” Judon as Baloo had a bounce in his step that immediately translated into my 8-year-old daughter happily bouncing next to me, and I observed that same bounce slide into myself as we swayed with him. Judon as Baloo was so infectious with his happy spirit to the point that yes, we wanted to be just like him.
Next, Wilkie Ferguson III got to sing the iconic, “Friend Like Me.” I had seen recently in the touring company of Aladdin, yet somehow the tech team at Tuacahn was able to make that number even more fun and exciting. From the projection to the choreography to the costuming, Ferguson as the Genie is right that we really have never had a friend like him. The outdoor amphitheater allows for magnificent fireworks and spectacle not possible in a traditional venue, adding to the infectious solo performances.
The producers at Tuacahn have taken the opportunity to take the most spectacular parts of many Disney shows and combine them into one seamless production. The show can bring a family together to enjoy the most magnificent parts of the most beloved Disney characters. Tuacahn has woven together a story of a child’s imagination and given that child a chance to connect and be a part of the hero stories that she adores. Against a backdrop of magic, excitement, and wonder, the show has been set to live music under the direction of Kinnear and has given audiences access to a new and creative work in a unique outdoor stage.