Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Wish Upon a Star: Unauthorized Intimate Reflections with Walt Disney
Also see Rob's review of Peter Pan
Vernon Poitras resembles Disney to the extent that, when the lights come up, there is a low but audible reaction from the crowd. Poitras is a son of the Midwest himself, so the accent is right for Disney and so is the attitude: brusque, with a down-home folksiness that can build quickly into frustration and anger. "Uncle" Walt's dying, after all. And he knows he'll never get to see his "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" (EPCOT). But when Poitras breaks into an uncanny impersonation of Disney voicing Mickey Mouse, the depths of Disney's abilities and the actor's are revealed.
Disney's creations are legendary and his story as told in this one-man show is fascinating, at times startling. He was a cartoonist and a voice-over actor and by 1937, the famous entrepreneur launched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, showcasing his own innovations in sound and animation. Disney was fully aware that his later Uncle Walt persona was just that, a mask worn for the parents and kiddies. He drank, he smoked, he hated union organizers. His father beat him. Disney did a commercial for DeSoto and gave the car to his father Elias, who never thanked him. He was hard on his employees and demanding of himself. All of these life issues and events are covered in Andy Mayo's play.
I would have liked to hear some mention of Disney's involvement with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a conservative organization formed against communist and fascist movements. He was considered a racist because his movie Song of the South came under criticism by the NAACP, among other groups. There is a brief mention of rumors of anti-Semitism against Disney that are dismissed in the play when he says that in his New York office, he had "more Jews than Leviticus." Eliding or skating over these issues of Disney's image doesn't do the play any good. At just about 75 minutes, there is room for more.
Disney was a creative soul with stories to tell and ideas he saw implemented on the big screen. He died in 1966 a multimillionaire. In the play, he protests a bit too much. To hear him tell it, you'd think his banker-brother Roy was always scraping together the money for the next project. That might have been true up to a point, but his wealth and fame were well earned and well compensated.
Praise to sound designer Casey Mraz and director James Cady for putting us in a nostalgic mood with Disney classic songs like "Someday My Prince Will Come" and, of course, "When You Wish Upon a Star." Baby boomers will relate.
Enchanted Rose Theatre's Wish Upon a Star: Unauthorized Intimate Reflections with Walt Disney, through December 11, 2016 at The Cell Theatre, 700 1st St NW, Albuquerque. Friday-Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m. at The Cell Theatre, 700 1st St. NW; Tickets:(505) 766-9412, liveatthecell.com.