ESSEX COUNTY, NJ – What do you get when you combine Disney’s classic, timeless songs with Broadway’s brightest stars and the holiday magic of the Paper Mill Playhouse? You get “Wow!” You get just what you would expect with this triple threat — an enchanting, entertaining evening, right in your own backyard.
“A Jolly Holiday: Celebrating Disney’s Broadway Hits,” with book by Sandy Rustin and directed by Casey Hushion, is a wonderful and fun way for Broadway fans, Disney fans and just regular folks who want to enjoy a night out to kick off the holiday season.
This magical show stars five Disney on Broadway veteran performers, essentially being themselves as they talk about some of their previous performances, interwoven with bits and pieces about their lives — and perform many of the most cherished songs from the Disney on Broadway catalog, including songs from “Hercules,” “Aida,” “Tarzan,” “High School Musical,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Frozen” and “Newsies,” which originated at the Paper Mill Playhouse.
Kara Lindsay, with her quintessential Disney-princess voice, gave me goosebumps and made me cry as she sang “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” reminding me of days gone by with my now grown-up daughter, when we watched the movie and that song was so much a part of our world.
After thinking I was being overly emotional, at intermission I learned from my dates for the evening, Enya and Lena, twentysomething friends of mine from Germany, that they too had teared up, having their own memories evoked by some of the numbers. Enya had played the role of young Simba in a third-grade school production of “The Lion King,” and when she heard “Hakuna Matata” and “Circle of Life” she experienced the same tears and goosebumps that I had. The universal reach of Disney, across generations and geography, is mind-boggling; it has created its own circle of life.
Lindsay, a standout performer, channeled Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins to a T, as she sang “Jolly Holiday” with the marvelous Major Attaway and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” with the fabulous Dan DeLuca. As she sang the words, “It’s a jolly holiday with you, Bert,” I could see Julie Andrews from the movie right there on the stage, and Attaway and DeLuca both became Dick Van Dyke as each had a turn singing with her.
Attaway, who played the Genie in “Aladdin” on Broadway for three years, is such an amazing onstage presence that I don’t know which number to talk about first. His performances of “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin” and “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” both with the rest of the company, which includes Jarran Muse and Kissy Simmons, are captivating. Attaway’s facial expressions are so intense, and his voice booms out with so much force and emotion, that his performance mesmerizes the audience. Muse and Simmons are also brimming over with talent, so the numbers that include the entire cast are over-the-top spectacular.
Simmons, who appeared on Broadway in “The Lion King,” is a class act all the way, and when she belts out lyrics, you can’t help but be in awe of her talent and range. When she and DeLuca perform the title song from “Beauty and the Beast,” they exude emotion.
Muse, a Jersey native with a big smile and an engaging personality, is truly a charismatic performer. His singing and dancing are tremendous; if by some odd chance you don’t fall in love with him right away, you definitely will after you witness his high-energy tap dancing.
The choreography by Kenny Ingram is creative, energetic and at times whimsical, as in the fishlike movements of the cast in “Under the Sea.”
Adding to the Paper Mill magic is the lovely set by Kelly James Tighe, the remarkable lighting by Charlie Morrison and the elegant costumes by Sarita P. Fellows. The set is a living room with some couches and chairs centered around one very tall, beautiful Christmas tree, with many other Christmas trees in the background, all lit up with color-changing lights and orbs that pulsate and sparkle in sync with the music. There are also menorahs on furniture placed around the set, and many beautifully gift-wrapped boxes under the enormous tree.
The fantastic orchestra, which is right onstage, is led by conductor Geoffrey Ko, who is also on keyboards along with Jarred Lee.
The cast is sharply dressed in evening, holiday attire, which is even more sparkly and luminous after they change for the second half of the show. That being said, I must give a shout out right here to the cool boots Simmons wears in the first half of the show. She rocks them!
“A Jolly Holiday” runs through Sunday, Jan. 2; this jolly holiday treat for the whole family is a great chance to see a Broadway-caliber show close to home. Tickets can be purchased at https://papermill.org/purchase-tickets/.
The Paper Mill Playhouse requires proof of vaccination for all artists, staff and audience members over 12, as well as the wearing of face coverings for all staff and audiences in the theater and lobbies. For complete protocols, visit https://papermill.org/reopening-guidelines/.
By Debbie L. Hochberg, Correspondent