Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time
Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Storefront Church, Photograph 51, and A Few Good Men


The animated films of Walt Disney are known for their stunning visuals, colorful characters, and exceptional storylines. Yet I have to believe that the popularity of these movies is partly due to the many great songs they feature. Phoenix Symphony Orchestra presented four performances recently of Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time, a superb evening that featured many of the most well-known hits from the Disney catalog of animated films performed by a talented quartet of vocalists and backed by the excellent Phoenix Symphony Orchestra while highlights from the classic movies were displayed on a large screen overhead.

Under the skilled baton of guest conductor John Varineau, the PSO performed exceptionally, with the familiar tunes coming vibrantly to life with a rich clarity from the top level craftsmanship and incredibly professional musical skills of every member of the orchestra. I've seen dozens of concerts presented by this symphony and each one always makes me proud to have such a talented group of men and women right here in Phoenix who exhibit such a deep love for music—both classical and popular—and an organization that presents numerous concerts each season that touch upon all types of musical styles.

Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time has been performed with various symphony orchestras around the country. Whitney Claire Kaufman, Lisa Livesay, Aaron Phillips, and Andrew Johnson were the vocalists for the Phoenix shows. All four have performed this concert with other symphonies, and Kaufman, Phillips and Johnson all appeared with the PSO in a previous Disney concert. Their strong voices and exceptional delivery of the material along with their deep love of these movies was evident on every song they sang.

The concert began with a medley of well-known themes from classic Disney films, including Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Lady and the Tramp. Most of the selections in the concert focused on either a specific film or a type of Disney character. Highlights included exceptional work from Phillips, who it seems has no limits to his mimicry and clowning capabilities as he channeled some of the most beloved comical and villainous Disney characters. Selections included "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin, and "Be Afraid" from The Lion King, which was part of a medley of villain songs. That segment also included a stirring and seductive version of "Trust in Me" from The Jungle Book performed by Andrew Johnson, and Whitney Claire Kaufman's vocally rich performance of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid.

A medley of romantic songs included a lovely version of "Beauty and the Beast" performed by Kaufman and Johnson. A beautiful musical introduction solo by the orchestra segued into "So This is Love" from Cinderella that featured Lisa Livesay and Phillips with both vocalists in superb form. Phillips also delivered an exemplary and hilarious performance of "In Summer" from Frozen as he ended the song on a soaring and sustained high note that got huge applause. That number was part of the section dedicated to Frozen, which closed out the concert. Lisa Livesay brought a sweet and charming sensibility to a few of the numbers the character Elsa sings in that film while the movie's big hit, "Let It Go," was led by Kaufman in an arrangement that featured the rest of the vocalists providing warm and rich backing vocals.

While the concert focused on many of the more popular Disney movie songs, it also featured some songs from lesser known films. These included numbers from Tangled, including a lovely solo by Kaufman of "When Will My Life Begin?" and a medley of the gospel-infused numbers from Hercules. Kaufman also delivered an exceptional, soul searching performance of "Reflection" from Mulan. A selection of songs from The Princess and the Frog, which has a New Orleans infused score by Randy Newman, proved quite charming and upbeat.

In what was one of the major highlights of the evening, the orchestra played an instrumental piece entitled "Battle with the Forces of Evil" which uses a theme from Tchaikovsky. The climactic battle scene from Sleeping Beauty played out on the screen overhead in sync to the orchestra's exemplary performance. The concert ended with an encore of "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King led by Johnson with backup harmonies by the rest of the singers for a truly emotional ending to a superb show.

Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time was directed and written by Sherilyn Draper, with enlightening information dispersed throughout the concert by the singers that brought appropriate attention to the material without seeming to interrupt the flow of music. Musical director Ted Ricketts also contributed to many of the beautiful arrangements and orchestrations.

The magic and splendor of Disney animation and the many memorable songs from those films proved to be the perfect combination for a superb evening of music. A huge plus was that there were a large number of young children at the performance I attended. Hopefully, seeing these songs performed by such a talented orchestra will entice them to return to future concerts from the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra.

Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time with the Phoenix Symphony played four performances on February 24-26, 2017 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix AZ. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.

John Varineau, conductor
Director and Writer: Sherilyn Draper
Musical director: Ted Ricketts
With Lisa Livesay, Whitney Claire Kaufman, Aaron Phillips and Andrew Johnson


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