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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Magic at the Memorial’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’

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It’s hard to imagine a style of musical revue requiring more performer wattage than one devoted to Disney songs. Talk about having to put on the sparkle. The adept cast of “Magic at the Memorial,” a revue celebrating the 10th anniversary of Children’s Musical Theaterworks at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, does a solid job delivering the perky, upbeat colors that saturate the Disney universe.

The one-act show is half of a program that also includes a new musical production of “Disney’s Winnie the Pooh.”

The “Magic” show bears the Musical Theaterworks Fresno imprint, which means it features adult performers. (Happily, directors Josh Montgomery and Shannah Estep were able to sign up a slate of solid local theater veterans.) Songs pay tribute to past CMT productions along with a couple of upcoming titles, including “The Little Mermaid” and “Cinderella.”

Each member of the “Magic” cast gets a chance to shine. Among the strongest are Estep and Ashley Taylor, who both bring a gentle but pervasive warmth to the material. (Estep’s “Reflection” and Taylor’s “Part of Your World” are highlights.) One of my favorite songs in the show’s lineup is the Estep/Taylor duet “I’m Wishing.”

Nicholle Cash is a standout dancer in the show, Brian Pucheu belts out his vocals with expected finesse, and Branden Gonzales gets the nod for the happiest guy on stage. Gonzales exudes the kind of cheery enthusiasm that me that me think that if he had to choose between food and Disney, he’d choose the latter.

The second half of the program, “Winnie the Pooh,” comes from CMT, which was chosen as one of the first theaters in the country to perform it. The production, which is definitely geared toward the youngest theatergoing set, has plenty of cute kid performances — not to mention some nice, creative costumes from Kirsten Peters-McGrath. Director Jeff White’s concept of the “hole” in which many of the animal characters fall is quite clever.

I do think, however, the folks at Disney should take a second look at this show and consider some revisions. The key character of Christopher Robin is somewhat awkwardly integrated into the action, and the nebulous nature of the villain in the piece makes the storyline too rambling and unfocused. It’s hard to imagine this as a standalone children’s theater piece without it getting expanded and sharpened.

Responses to "THEATER REVIEW: ‘Magic at the Memorial’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’"

Ray Arthur says:

I took my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter to see this, last Thursday night. Not, of course, reading the fine print I assumed it was a 15 minute opening act with a magician followed by Winnie the Pooh. Luckily, granddaughter Emma didn’t care. She knew most of the songs and all of the characters and we thoroughly enjoyed the musical magic. My only criticism is that if you’re going to perform an hour of Disney movie music you should start or finish with “When You Wish Upon A Star. But, it’s a small world after all, so maybe next time! Winnie was great. I understand and agree with Donald’s suggestions, however, the core audience of 2 to 10 year olds couldn’t have cared less.