Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Remembering ‘On the Record’- The Forgotten Disney Revue

By Rebekah Coley

Over the years, many Disney stories and songs have been brought to life (outside of the parks) in glittering productions. Sadly, not every show created by Disney Theatricals has earned a place among the stars. Disney's music revue "On the Record" falls into this category. Despite the fact that this show didn't reach stardom status, Disney Avenue contributing writer Rebekah Coley feels that this soundtrack still deserves a spot on your Disney playlist. Check out her full review in today's new article...

From timeless Sherman Brothers tunes to popular hits from the 90s – choir directors, vocal teachers, and the minds behind major Broadway shows have wisely utilized the rich library of Disney music. In addition to the licensed Disney musicals I’ve attended, I’ve also been to more than one Disney Music Revue, and have seen multiple Disney concerts performed by the local symphony. Need I state the obvious? This music sells. This music especially sells with the die-hard fan that can never hear too many arrangements of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, or other various Disney medleys. Being one of those fans, I often find myself doing more than one random YouTube or Pandora search for Disney playlists. During one of these searches, I came across several Disney mash-up arrangements that listed the artist as “Disney’s On the Record Cast Recording”. I did vaguely remember hearing of this show before (over a decade ago), but this was the first time it appeared on my radar as an adult. After jamming to the entire soundtrack at work, I decided to put on my detective hat to figure out where this show came from and why (as a theater junkie) I hadn’t heard of it before.

Essentially, after Disney proved several times over that their music was more than capable of turning a show into a phenomenon, the president of Disney Theatricals (Thomas Schumacher) and director Robert Longbottom decided to create a show that was specifically designed to tour. The product of this vision was the On the Record revue. As opposed to merely being a concert, the show had a minimal storyline that focused on four vocalists recording a Disney album. The four main characters consisted of two established stars (Diane and Julian) that have a romantic history, and two flirtatious newcomers (Kristen and Nick). When casting these roles in 2004, typecasting was certainly a driving force as Broadway vets Kate Skinner and Brian Sutherland were cast into the older roles, and two then-unknowns (Andrew Samonsky and Ashely Brown) were cast as the newbies. (Skinner was later replaced during the tour by performer, Kaitlin Hopkins.) Backed up by a talented singing and dancing ensemble of four additional performers, the show covers decades and decades of Disney hits ranging from Phil Collins’ beloved Tarzan pop songs to the tunes written for Walt’s first animated feature. With a rather neglected plot and a simple set for the cast, the highlights of the show are undoubtedly the incredible voices and the clever, unsuspecting musical arrangements. Despite these assets, the planned 36-week tour was received by shaky critic reviews, failed to fill up theaters, and closed its run 2 months early. What happened? Is this show a marvelous hidden gem of Disney theater?  Or a fantastical flop? In my effort to be as objective as possible, here are my slightly rambling thoughts on the matter.

After I re-discovered the existence of this show, I immediately made it a goal to memorize the soundtrack, watch any YouTube videos I could get my hands on, and scour the Internet for reviews. While also keeping in mind that I sadly never had the opportunity to see the full show when it was running, I can say with confidence that I can appreciate the beauty of the production while also understanding why On the Record never “made it”. More than one critic suggested that this perky show would’ve been better off if it had purely been a music revue and had ditched the shallow story line, choreography, and gimmicky features. Personally, I have to say that’s where I would cast my vote as well. 

Andrew Samonsky in Disney’s stage version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

As I said earlier, I’ve been to more than one Disney symphony. These concerts would also feature guest vocalists, and even these basic performances had more than one “whoa buddy” moment (a.k.a. the moment in a show where the silliness or dramatic flair of the thespian makes audience members feel slightly uncomfortable). Being silly is definitely not new territory to me as a musical enthusiast, but as with all things, it can be overdone. Unfortunately, the gimmicks that didn’t transfer very well on stage didn’t seem to transfer any better on this soundtrack.  Examples of these unnecessary add-ons included moments like the vocalists bursting into helium-inspired mice voices for Cinderella’s Work Song and coquettishly singing encores of “Bow Wow” at the end of He’s a Tramp. In addition to some questionable vocal direction, while onstage, the performers were handed props to twirl and were given ill-fitting choreography. Something about Nick doing a hip-thrusting dance while Kristen dreamily sang Lavender Blue to herself just… made my eyebrows furrow. The other crime of this show is the under utilization of Brian Sutherland’s (Julian’s) voice. Obviously I can’t say for sure whether or not this can be blamed on the directing, but his powerhouse pipes sounded unchallenged. It seemed that due to his boredom, Sutherland compensated by over-dramatizing his solos. Frankly, there were times when his exaggerated tones made me wonder if I was listening to an SNL parody as opposed to a lovely ballad… Still, all of the performers earned their fair share of enthusiasm points and were clearly overflowing with talent.

Ashley Brown as Kristen

Despite the shortcomings of this production, I still think that if you are a fellow sucker for harmonies, forgotten songs, and (obviously) Disney, you owe it to yourself to check out this soundtrack. The musical arrangements are truly enchanting and although every classic song didn’t hit it home for me, many older tunes are re-incarnated into more pleasing versions. Specifically, I was unaware that the songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo could be as gorgeous as they are when sung with clear, bell-like tones. Don’t get me wrong, though, the versatility of the music selections span various generations of Disney magic. In addition to an impressive song roster, it is almost worth purchasing the CD for the mere chance to hear Ashley Brown and Andrew Samonsky sing before they hit their professional strides. Ms. Brown’s performance as Kristen left such a favorable impression, she eventually had a run as Belle in Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast, and originated the role of Mary Poppins in the U.S. stage production. Samonsky recently originated the role of Captain Phoebus de Martin in the U.S. Premiere of Disney’s stage version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Although this show is tragically not moving to the big white way, you can hear him sing on the soundtrack that was recently released.) These success stories alone tell me that On the Record shouldn’t be dismissed so carelessly.

Ashley Brown as Mary Poppins

Sadly, this soundtrack is not available on iTunes, but you can listen to most of the songs in the YouTube playlist below...

(For your listening pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the music below.)

If you do take a moment to check out the music (and I sincerely hope you do), please check out some of my revue favorites:
  • Can You Feel the Love Tonight / I Won't Say (I'm in Love) / Let's Get Together / Belle
  • I'm Wishing / One Song
  • You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly! / So This Is Love / A Whole New World / The Second Star to the Right
  • I Will Go Sailing No More / Just Around the Riverbend / Strangers Like Me
  • Baby Mine
  • A Change in Me
  • You’ll Be in My Heart
  • Finale: Bare Necessities / A Spoonful of Sugar / It’s a Small World

If you enjoyed hearing Disney's On the Record soundtrack, you can grab a copy of the show for yourself by clicking the Amazon link below...

In conclusion, although On the Record made too many misfires to become a hit, the soundtrack still rightfully belongs in the library of a Disney fan. Whether this CD is lifting my spirits at work or playing in my car as I drive to an audition, I’m happy to have rediscovered it, and hope that others will have this opportunity as well.


Rebekah Coley is a Pittsburgh native who has been obsessing over Disney films (and the corporation in general) for her entire life. Starting with a childhood of constantly dressing up in princess costumes, memorizing songs, and watching the newest Disney VHS tapes on repeat, her love and passion for Disney magic has not faded over time.

In addition to loving the most popular Disney movies, Rebekah has a soft spot for underrated works that didn’t receive the same fanfare (e.g. A Goofy Movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.) It is a passion of hers to remind other fans of their existence and excellence.

By day, Rebekah works in professional development and holds a Bachelors degree in Human Resources Management from Point Park University. By night, she performs in community theater musicals, reads and exercises compulsively, and strives to stay on top of any Disney-related news. As a lover of entertainment, Rebekah’s blogs focus on reviewing Disney’s theme park productions, stage adaptations, films, and books.

You can find additional examples of Rebekah’s work on her personal blog- https://toeachhisownblog.wordpress.com/.

You can find all of Rebekah's articles here.

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