Concert Review: Disney in Concert – The Sound of Magic – Orchestra of the Music Makers, Joshua Tan | The Flying Inkpot
Disney 100: The Sound of Magic
by presenter WILLOW ARTS, in assoc with SSF, co-presented by OMM
Orchestra of the Music Makers
Joshua Tan, conductor
Esplanade Theatre, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
7 October 2023
Review by Derek Lim
A child of the 80s, I grew up with a steady diet of Disney. Long before it became the global behemoth it is today, the music and animation of what people now call its Renaissance period became seared into my consciousness – especially The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King – making tonight’s performance unmissable for me.
Titled ‘Disney 100: The Sound of Magic’, this specially produced film concert presentation was a fitting celebration of all music Disney ahead of the company’s official 100 anniversary later this month on Monday, 16 October, and proved to be as enjoyable as one might imagine.
Video sequences from the vast world of Disney’s animated features – some with the original pencilled storyboard illustrations – were projected above the orchestra, against live orchestral accompaniment with Joshua Tan conducting the Orchestra of the Music Makers at the Esplanade Theatre.
Opening with an overture that climaxed in Disney’s famously magical ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ sequence that now opens all its features, the evening then moved on to individual segments from its most famous movies. The first half alone featured Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Tarzan, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, alongside less well-known offerings like The Princess and the Frog.
Those expecting a more straightforward movie-by-movie presentation of their greatest hits may have found the manner that the music and animation was arranged jarring. To illustrate, in the ‘Be Our Guest’ segment of the Beauty and the Beast selections, the music played was Alan Menken’s ‘Be Our Guest’, but animation sequences featuring eating from many other Disney movies were spliced in and around that of the 1991 classic. I found this disorienting. Disney’s animations are so closely tied to the original music – a hallmark of how co-dependent they are on each other – that the brain registers anything else as foreign.
For some reason, Big Hero 6 – a really good movie which I enjoyed – had many action sequences sampled throughout the first half of the evening, despite not a bar of music being featured, as did Zootopia. As seconds-long sequences flashed across the screen were interspersed with other longer ones from the main movie whose music was being actually featured, I felt oddly like someone was trying to hammer me over the head with Disney animation history.
Perhaps the intention was to sample broadly through Disney’s output throughout the years. I think in this respect, the creators of ‘The Sound of Magic’ were successful, but coherence suffered and the production ran the risk of feeling just that bit shallow, rather than delving into the rich musical numbers in each musical. If Tarzan, why not ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’; if The Lion King, why not ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’; and if Beauty and the Beast, why not ‘Gaston’?
All these were mere quibbles compared to a couple of decisions in the stitching that were truly inexplicable. In the Frozen segment, the middle section (My power flurries through the air into the ground/My soul is spiralling in frozen fractals all around/And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast/I’m never going back, the past is in the past) cut gratingly without warning into ‘Into the Unknown’ where one expected a musical and dramatic resolution with a return to the ‘Let It Go’ chorus.
The second half was altogether better thought through and executed, with some of the songs thematically grouped – there was a Disney Princess segment (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), a Disney Villains segment which had rousing performances of ‘Be Prepared’ from The Lion King as well as ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ from The Little Mermaid – two songs I’ve always found deliciously campy – and the use of Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ and Stravinsky’s ‘Infernal Dance’ from Firebird Suite were nice touches.
A later selection of songs from Lilo and Stitch, The Lion King, and Encanto, tugged at the heartstrings and moistened the eyes of not a few audience members with moving performances from the orchestra, while later songs in the sequence (‘Go The Distance’ from Hercules) lifted the spirits. This was my favourite sequence, topped only by the following always-moving ‘Circle of Life’. Coming after so much great music, ‘If You Wish Upon A Star’, sung by Emmeline of The Island Voices, was a lovely, if somewhat tacked-on encore.
Musically, this was rather a change of pace for Joshua Tan and Orchestra of the Music Makers, fresh off their last performance of Wagner’s Rheingold, but no less challenging, I’d imagine, for both conductor and orchestra. Stylistically, the music was wide-ranging and having to accompany an often disembodied voice closely is no easy task. Despite slightly recessed sound – the orchestra sounded decidedly smaller here compared to at the Esplanade Concert Hall – and the music sounding just a split-second slower than than the animation especially in the fast tracks in the first half, the OMM played their hearts out with lots of colour and style, breathing life to the fabulous scores of Disney’s many composers. It was a joy and a treat to have so much well-known music to enjoy in a single performance – more, please!