Finding Nemo: The Musical came to my attention through the internet. Kate Wetherhead (star and co-writer of Broadwayworld.com's web-series Submissions Only and friend of blogger extraordinaire Andrew Keenan-Bolger) was a part of the original cast, so I knew it existed and had seen a few very impressive video clips. For those of you who don't know (don't feel bad, almost nobody knows about this show), Finding Nemo: The Musical is a forty minute musical show that runs several times a day at Disney's "Animal Kingdom" in Orlando Florida. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be seeing an original Disney musical (seeing as I've heard and loved the entire soundtrack of every show they've ever put on Broadway), so I knew it was going to be one of the highlights of my vacation. I wasn't disappointed. I loved every minute of it and proceeded to walk right out of the theater and buy the cast album (featuring Kate Wetherhead and Stephanie D'Abruzzo [Avenue Q & I Love You Because]) which (as my family can attest) played non-stop in our van for the remainder of our trip. The show was marvelous, entertaining, fun for the whole family, and a "must see" for any musical lover who finds themselves in Disney World. But that's not to say that it's perfect.
- Got No Strings To Hold Them Down-- Like many other shows Disney has produced (especially Lion King), the best part about it was the visual spectacle it provided. All of the characters were portrayed as puppets, which was an excellent choice for this show. Since the whole show takes place underwater, having the characters virtually floating in mid air proved to be a splendidly lovely effect. Of course, there were rods attaching them to their handlers, but it didn't take long for the audience to become completely oblivious to these "anchors". I also really appreciated the variety of the puppets used (no, there were no marionettes). These ranged from what looked like an umbrella painted up to look like a puffer fish, to a monstrous Sea Turtle that took a team of people to control, to magnificently beautiful Jellyfish created with poles and ribbons. The versatility in the puppetry rivaled that of even The Lion King,
- Their Strongest Suit--I also liked how all the puppeteers were in costume. Like in Avenue Q, (Broadway's less family friendly puppet show) you found yourself watching the puppeteer as much as the puppet because they were acting through both mediums simultaneously. Their costumes matched the vibrant colors of the fish they were representing and helped carry the magic of the story to the next level.
- Under The Sea--The set was just about as spectacular as the costumes and puppets were. There wasn't much that was permanent, because the majority of the stage was filled up by the puppets that the cast brought on and off frequently, but the general build of the stage provided a set in itself. The stage was outlined by "bubbles" with television screens in them that they used to entertain the younger audience members before the show (giving them the chance to "find Nemo" as he swam in one "bubble" and out the other) and help set the scene during the show. The screen that made up the backdrop of the show was convenient occasionally, but I saw it as a bit of a crutch that they sometimes leaned too heavily on. I understand them using it to continue a scene that they had already set up on the stage (such as making the sharks' field of "balloons" seem endless), but when they used it to make up an entire set, or, even worse, to show an entire character and thereby reduce the show by one puppet, I was disappointed. But they made good use of the aisles of the theater, and got to play with platforms (which I always love), so all in all it was a pretty OK set.
- Music Of The Night--I have mixed feelings about their score. On the one hand, it tells the story and was good enough to be stuck in my head for several days after seeing it. On the other hand, it really only has one or two real songs in it. So many of the songs were under a minute long and felt more like a poem being spoke to music. There were "lyrics" that barely rhymed and didn't follow a clear melody. The creative team did a good job deciding which moments to set to music and which to leave to dialog, but with only 40 minutes, they didn't really have time to create real musical numbers. This is the main reason that the show (as it is) couldn't succeed on a larger stage, like Broadway. The score is so choppy, and so unrefined that it leaves anyone who knows what good musical theater should sound like feeling empty. As Lt. Frank Coffee would say: it's "kinda lack luster. It lacks.........luster". The one exception to this disappointing trend is Crush the turtle's show-stopping number: Go With The Flow. This is one of the few songs that the song writers saw fit to flesh out in it's completion. And, although I believe with more time the song could be improved upon to make it even better, the song itself has a wonderful quality to it. It's the kind of song that's so impressive you can't sing it (because it takes a crazy good singer to pull it off), but so catchy you try anyway (other songs like this include "Heaven On Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar, and "Oh Bless The Lord" from Godspell). Suffice to say, my parents are sick of me playing it on repeat in the car, but I still can't get over it. Unfortunately, "Go With The Flow" is the exception, and not the rule. Although there are pieces of songs that show potential, such as "Big Blue World" and "We Swim Together", in their current state, they're not ready to be considered real musical theater songs.
- Just Like You--There have been many movies that made the jump to Broadway shows, and the most successful ones are not the ones that try to copy and paste the movie onto a stage, but instead try to take inspiration from the story and tell it in a whole new way. This was not one of Nemo's strong suits. I know they wanted to make a lot familiar to the young audiences they were playing to, but it just felt like every single scene was directly ripped from the movie and occasionally had identical dialogue. Since they were crunched on time I see why they did it this way, but if they want to make the jump to Broadway, then they really ought to consider adding some diversity.
- The People In The Picture--Unfortunately, Disney did not provide us with a program to the show, so I don't have a cast list and thereby can't systematically run through the cast in painstaking detail like I usually do (I know you're all very upset, but don't worry, the Tony's are coming up and you can read my long, rambling, boring posts then). So I will attempt to cover the cast as briefly and completely as I can.
- Marlin was really well done. He didn't get a chance to let his voice really shine, but his acting was right on and he was a good rock that the audience could turn back to. I've officially decided that as soon as George Salazar leaves Godspell on Broadway (which I hope he never will), he needs to play this role. His voice, and even his appearance are so much like the character it's scary.
- Nemo was played by a young woman in her mid twenties. But even this wasn't that obvious (I wasn't sure until she hit some of those high notes later in the show) because of her childlike acting and some clever costuming. She seemed inclined to lean on her falsetto or "head voice" a bit more than I would like, but I feel like she captured the essence of Nemo well, and that's what's important.
- Dory was hysterical. She was brilliantly casted and did a fantastic job! I didn't watch the puppet very much for Dory because the range of emotions she has to express is just too vast to be displayed on the fixed face of a puppet, but the actress did an excellent job of conveying the emotion through her body language and her voice. Her comedic timing and general carefree air were really a highlight of the show.
- Crush the Turtle was AMAZING! He definitely had the best song in the show, so that made it sound like he had the best voice (whether he did or not I'm not really sure). Crush's puppet was kind of boring, it was really big and therefore didn't move much, but I just couldn't get over this guys' voice! Definitely the best moment in the show.
- Bruce the Shark did a really good job actually. He was another one of those actors where you could look at the puppet or the actor and be equally entertained. His line delivery was good, but sometimes I wished he'd take some more risks, his lines sounded like a complete copy from the movie.
- They Swim Together--As can be expected, the ensemble was spectacular. There was a lot of double casting, so you didn't really get to connect with any of the characters other than the ones I mentioned above, but all of the actors did a great job. The show was at it's strongest when the stage was full and the audience was overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all. The ensemble made that happen, so they get loads of credit.
The show is really something special. It's based off of one of the most beloved animated movies of our time, and shows great potential. If a full length version ever does come out and they remember to stray from the movie, then I imagine it will be a big hit (at least as much as family shows ever are) on Broadway. If any of you ever go to Disney World in Orlando be sure to stop by Animal Kingdom and catch this remarkable show, and then come back and tell me what you thought about it. I'd love to hear your opinions. Thanks for reading!