Review: Walt and Roy

With all the crazy stuff happening right now, many events that were supposed to happen this year got canceled. One such event was the premiere of a new musical about Walt and Roy Disney that was supposed to open this spring in Los Angeles. Allen and Gray, the two masterminds behind the show, decided not to let a little thing like a pandemic stop them from sharing their vision with the world. They held a virtual Musical Festival this month to showcase four of their shows on YouTube via socially distanced performances and a little digital magic. I purchased a ticket for their show Walt and Roy on Eventbrite and had a front row seat to experience it from home last Thursday. It was an odd way to watch a musical. I found the show pleasant enough, but there were times that the lack of physical interactions between the actors got distracting despite their best efforts.

Walt and Roy takes place from the early 1920s to the 1930s and tells the story of how Walt started the Walt Disney Company with his brother, Roy. As a Disney aficionado, I was already aware of the events covered in the musical, so it had little to offer me. However, for someone who is not proficient in the nuances of Disney's origins, it could serve as a nice history lesson. The show covered Walt's partnership with Ub Iwerks on the Alice comedies, Universal's theft of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the creation of Mickey Mouse, and the production of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsPayson Lewis did a great job of capturing Walt's stubborn optimism, while Jonah Platt successfully portrayed Roy's quiet sensibility. The only performer I didn't like was Alex Arthur, who played Walt's wife, Lilly Disney. She came off as annoyed and sarcastic most of the time and didn't seem to have any chemistry with the actor playing Walt, but I acknowledge that may have been a challenge due to the fact that everyone was recorded in separate locations.

You can't make a musical about Walt Disney with some sort of whimsical element. This show delivered its magic through some rudimentary animation of a talking tree that served as Walt's mentor. The tree served as a portal into the endless untapped potential of Walt's imagination that guided him to his future success. The songs in the show added an additional layer of fantasy to an otherwise realistic and somewhat mundane narrative. Though I didn't dislike any of the musical numbers, none of them particularly stood out to me. The jarring change in audio quality between the singing and speaking parts of the show made it more difficult to enjoy as well. You could tell that the songs were pre-recorded and mixed outside of the rooms where the actors were filmed. I did appreciate the subtle musical references to other Disney songs. For instance, Walt's duet with Lilly, "High Adventure," shared the same title as a deleted song from Aladdin and had a similar feel to "A Whole New World." Another song had a melody that sounded almost like "When You Wish Upon a Star."

I wish I could say this show thoroughly held my interest, but I found myself getting bored quite a bit. Though it had all the proper beats and act breaks for a Broadway musical, it was too realistic to be entertaining. Walt led a charmed life in spite of the occasional hiccup such as losing employees or ideas. For the most part, he found great success with only a little bit of struggle, and that doesn't make for an entertaining show. I think that if the writers wanted this musical to be truly successful, they should have taken more liberties with Walt's life for the sake of drama and raised the stakes in the same way that Hamilton altered certain aspects of history to create a more entertaining experience. My favorite part of the show was near the end. Walt screened an early version of Snow White for one of his sponsors, and the film burned up just before the happy ending. Roy encouraged Walt to perform the rest of the show, which he did magnificently. I think that if the entire musical had been framed in the guise of a fairy tale with an exuberant narrator like Walt, it would have been more fun to watch.

Would I have enjoyed seeing this show in a live theater without all the socially distanced handicaps? Honestly, I'm not sure. It felt like a good idea in theory, but in practice, I think it needs some more polishing. The animated tree character wasn't relevant enough to fit into the larger narrative. Instead, I would have liked to see animated caricatures of the important figures in Walt's life and what roles they would have played in his story if it were a Disney movie. I also think the show would have been more enjoyable if Lilly Disney had been played by a different actress. Her snarky performance was a real let-down. If this musical gains traction after people are allowed to go outside again, I hope that the writers will take some time to build a more dramatic and cohesive plot from the events that were portrayed in the show.


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