Did you ever dream of being a princess when you were a kid? Of course you did. Well now is your chance to see the real royals in action with Disney Princess – The Concert at the Benedum Center on Monday, November 28.
The concert promises to be an unforgettable evening, where an acclaimed cast will perform more than 30 favorite Disney Princess songs. Drama Desk Award-nominee Christy Altomare (Broadway’s original ‘Anya’ in Anastasia and Mamma Mia), Theater World Award-winner Isabelle McCalla (Broadway’s ‘Jasmine’ in Aladdin and The Prom), Broadway World Award-winner Syndee Winters (Broadway’s ‘Nala’ in The Lion King, Hamilton), Disney Channel icon Anneliese van der Pol (That’s So Raven, Raven’s Home, Broadway’s final ‘Belle’ in Beauty and The Beast), and their enchanting Prince, Adam J. Levy (Moulin Rouge, Waitress) will celebrate these iconic characters and share exclusive, hilarious, and heartfelt behind-the-scenes stories from their time on the stage and screen while larger than life animations and theatrical effects will immerse the audience in pure Disney magic.
I got to nerd out about Disney with Benjamin Rauhala (Fiddler on the Roof, Secret Life of Bees), Music Director and resident Fairy Godfairy, about how this magical production went from the basement to the bigtime.
What inspired you to create this show?
Ben: Disney Princess – The Concert was born seven years ago as Broadway Princess Party and it was a show in a basement venue in New York called 54 Below. The original intent was just to get a bunch of my best girlfriends together and sing Disney princess songs that we loved. We thought we’d play dress up for a night and it would be silly and be a good time and that we’d never talk about it again. The videos ended up going very viral on YouTube, which was really lucky. But also, the women had so much fun doing it. So often they are in competition with each other, or when they’re in a show they are the only princess in a show, now suddenly they got to be in a show together and support each other and watch each other work. They found they were really able to celebrate each other’s differences.
For me, it was very fun to get to sort of insert my gay little self in these stories. I got to feel like I was on the magic carpet with Princess Jasmine and then I was Flounder floating around with Ariel.
So we kept doing those concerts every six months or so in New York. We eventually got asked to do some concerts out of town. The New York shows were over a dozen performers so for the out of town shows we figured maybe let’s try three girls, and see what that feels like. Sort of by happenstance those three girls ended up being Broadway’s original Jasmine, Belle, and Cinderella, and suddenly we realized that audiences really felt connected and like they were seeing something special when they saw these women who really played these roles talk about that experience and sing these songs.
I’m curious what Disney thought about all of this.
Ben: So we toured like that from the end of 2017 and basically until lockdown, until March of 2020. But towards the end of 2019, we were asked to do some symphony concerts in the Middle East that were meant to be in June of 2020 and we knew that meant that we had to call Disney. So, Susan Egan (Broadway’s original Belle and Meg in Hercules), who’s one of my business partners and now our executive producer, made the phone call to Disney to ask about purchasing 24 symphony charts. And they said, that’s above our pay grade so they sent her to the big bosses at Disney who said to us, we think you’re asking for too little. We think you should be asking for our help in marketing. We think you should be asking to use the animation and we actually think you guys should partner with us because we think we’d be great for you and you’d be great for us.
So the negotiations sort of began there while Broadway Princess Party was still touring and on my 33rd birthday, on March 4th of 2020, we signed our contract with Disney and then, as we all know, the world sort of took a turn the next week. We spent about the next year and a half really developing the show with Disney, taking our time, which meant that we got to do custom orchestrations. We got to work with every department of Disney, including their wonderful Diversity and Inclusion Department to really talk about how we wanted to present these characters that we all know and love, since as you know some of them have sort of problematic histories.
By October of 2021, we were premiering the show in the Middle East, which was really bonkers and very fun but also a very wild place to start a show that’s really about female empowerment but they were ready to have those conversations and that was very fun. We started this North American tour in January of 2022 so we are in the middle of our 100 city tour and we have about twenty left, which is crazy.
Sorry, I kind of gave you the long version of all that!
I’m such a huge Disney nerd so I’m just soaking it all in.
Ben: Oh, I love it. Roy, who’s your favorite Disney Princess? I always love to ask.
You know it’s funny you ask that. It has to be Ariel and that was really reinforced when I went to see Black Panther this weekend. They showed the trailer for the new Little Mermaid and the moment that music started every hair on my arms stood up and I started getting teary. I leaned over and said to my partner, ‘there’s just something about Part of Your World.’ I think it has to do with her being my first Disney Princess.
Ben: I’m wearing an Ariel button down shirt so I’m in that vibe with you.
So, you got all of this together just before the pandemic. Do you think that, and it feels weird to ask this because it was a pandemic, but do you think that delay helped the show, having that time to essentially hit the pause button?
Ben: Yes, I do, actually because I think it let us have some broader conversations. During that time, we decided to become a quartet so that we could reflect more identities on stage. I’m really grateful we had that time. And really, I’m so proud of what the show is every day, but it was work that happened over time and work that happened sort of in a funny vacuum where we didn’t know if it was ever going to be seen. I’m not grateful that I lived at my parents house for a year and a half and didn’t know if I’d have a career again. But on the other side of it, I do think it was beautiful for the development of this project.
So are you in the show?
Ben: I am in the show every day. I play the girls’ Fairy Godfairy. I play the piano and I’m a bit of a narrator. The frame story of Disney Princess – The Concert is a tale about me growing up and playing with dolls and playing the piano and not quite feeling like I fit in and turning to these characters to feel like I had friends.
Now that I’m an adult, the magical thing is that I get to share this Princess concert with everybody in the audience and share my journey from feeling lonesome and unaccepted to being proud and out there. I have wonderful interactions with these women as they’re celebrating these iconic princesses, and it’s very healing for me who as a little kid was bullied.
There have been times where I have heard from wonderful parents or even just young children who are so grateful to see something they didn’t expect to be represented up on stage. I’m so grateful that Disney embraced that with open arms. Broadway Princess Party was about that message and that was one of the things they loved about it so they wanted to carry it into our new iteration. And yes, so it’s been really joyful. We have the best time.
Oh my God, I’m sorry I’m getting a little emotional. That just feels so similar to my situation. Those movies were an escape for me. I remember when I saw the live action Beauty and the Beast, that quick moment of Lefou dancing with another guy just really hit me. I mean, seeing myself in a Disney movie finally, even for a brief moment, was such a big deal.
Ben: I agree and, you know, we talked about Ariel earlier and I do think generations of queer people have identified with Ariel, because she’s a hopeful romantic and she sort of dreams of the impossible and then gets it. She knows that she doesn’t quite fit where she is. She’s a person who is told she’s supposed to be one way or want one thing, but she knows very much so that she wants something else. People give her a lot of flack, saying she changed for a man, but that man was just the tipping point for her.
She makes some funny choices along the way, she is a teenager, after all. She gives up her voice and then learns the power of it but, at the end of the day, she knew that she was bound for something else. And I think as a queer person, I think many of us, you know, sometimes make some dubious choices in our early days as we’re finding what our identities are supposed to be.
I think Howard Ashman in the two “Part of your World” songs really imbued that feeling, that longing for the thing you can’t name and I think that’s why she has resonated with so many queer people. I’m really excited for the new people she’s going to resonate with as Halle Bailey’s portrayal comes out next May and the different children that will inspire and hopefully she’ll make other people’s journeys easier, the way that she did mine.
I’m so excited that you’re bringing this show to Pittsburgh!
Ben: The girls and I love Pittsburgh. My older brother actually has lived in Pittsburgh for over a decade. The last time we were there was as Broadway Princess Party at The Improv down at the Waterfront. I’m so excited to play the Benedum. It’s such a beautiful theater and Pittsburgh is such a great theater town. I think audiences of all ages are going to love this show. It’s a show that’s great for kids, but it’s really built for millennials and Gen Z people who grew up loving these characters. That’s really who we’re speaking to. It’s Disney princesses so people think it’s just for six year olds and yeah, but it’s also for 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds, and for your grandparents…
Disney is for the six-year-old in everybody!
Ben: Exactly! Yes, that’s how I always feel. It’s really a night about reminding people of the power of their dreams and taking you to a place where you remember what it was like to be six when you thought anything was possible.
That’s wonderful. Why can’t I just write about Disney all the time!? You know, you are living the dream for all of us, let’s be honest.
Ben: Oh man, well, it certainly feels that way for me. I’m having the time of my life.
Throw on your finest mouse-made gown and be at the Benedum Center on Monday, November 28 for Disney Princess – The Concert!