Disney Magic brings fairy tale to life

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A rendering of the show’s climactic lantern festival scene.
A rendering of the show’s climactic lantern festival scene.

Disney Cruise Line promises something for everyone in its production of "Tangled," which it previewed at its rehearsal studio in Toronto prior to its installation on the Disney Magic late this year.

The show, an adaptation of the 2010 animated movie "Tangled," is a reworking of the Rapunzel fairy tale about a young princess with extraordinarily long hair imprisoned in a tower by an enchantress.

To the mix, Disney has added a self-impressed, handsome hero; a lot of swashbuckling antics; a happy ending in which the heroine is reunited with lost parents; and a curious horse brought to life by a puppeteer.

The cast is a mix of promising youngsters fresh out of musical theater school and more seasoned cruise veterans. The two leads, British-born Elisha Ainsley as Rapunzel and Chicago native Nick Pankuch as Flynn Rider, make an appealing duo who gradually fall for each other.

Ainsley is the inexperienced ingenue on the cusp of her 18th birthday, longing for her life to begin. Pankuch is the devil-may-care rogue, on the run from his enemies and a flock of dazzled wannabe girlfriends.

Dana Harrel, Disney Imagineering executive creative director, said the "Tangled" story will be given some extra sizzle with technology and props that break the plane of the proscenium and bring the show out into the audience.

Choreographer Connor Gallagher observes cast members of Disney Cruise Line’s new “Tangled” production at Disney rehearsal studios in Toronto.
Choreographer Connor Gallagher observes cast members of Disney Cruise Line’s new “Tangled” production at Disney rehearsal studios in Toronto.

At the rehearsal, cast members were excited about the musical numbers, including three written expressly for the show by Alan Menken, who wrote the music for past Disney hits such as "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Perhaps the most novel element in the production is Maximus the police horse, which posed an obvious adaptation problem for the stage. Show director Gordon Greenberg said Disney turned to Michael Curry, the puppeteer for the Broadway version of "The Lion King," to create Maximus.

What they settled on is the front and back parts of a horse, with a human puppeteer in the middle acting out Maximus' movements. 

"You get to see and enjoy the fact that he's being puppeteered," Greenberg said. "It's constantly reminding you that you're watching somebody create this illusion, and I happen to think that for kids watching this, it's especially thrilling to be able to identify, 'There's somebody behind that; it's not just happening.'"

Another challenge was to translate the heroine's yards of long hair into something manageable on stage. In a preview number, Rapunzel's hair is used for a jump rope and a tug of war. Greenberg said the hair was a work in progress, but it seemed to be a bit of a burden at times, something that works better in a folk tale or animated movie than in the theater.

The climax of the production will be Rapunzel's experience of the lantern festival held every year on her birthday in hopes that she will be returned to her parents, the king and queen.

Rapunzel has pined for a closer view of the festival from her tower prison, and it becomes the quest of the couple, which forms the plot of the story.

Harrel said the 977-seat Walt Disney Theater on the Disney Magic will be transformed by using a variety of theater tricks to break the fourth wall of the stage and bring the show into the theater.

Among them will be projection mapping, in which images are scanned by computer and re-created in 3-D images that are projected onto surfaces, in this case the side walls of the theater.

There will also be lanterns on long sticks that drift out into and hover above the audience, for children to try to reach out and touch. "If you've ever been part of an immersive experience like that, it's kind of magical," Harrel said.

Harrel said she was especially excited to use Disney Cruise Line as the vehicle to bring "Tangled" to the stage because of the dynamics particular to a cruise ship program.

"The great thing about a cruise line is you see the show with your family and then you get to have dinner together and talk about it," Harrel said. "Or you get to go have dinner and talk about how excited you are to sit in a theater and see the show. It's a really unique experience."

"Tangled" will be offered on the Disney Magic starting in November when the ship commences five-night western Caribbean cruises from Miami. Disney Cruise Line producer David Baldree said there are no current plans to bring the show to other Disney ships.

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