Review: Jolly Holiday Is a Christmas Crowd-Pleaser Set to Disney's Greatest Hits
Paper Mill Playhouse enlists five Broadway veterans to celebrate the Disney musical canon.
Paper Mill Playhouse continues its gentle progression back to full-scale productions with a holiday show that blends the best of boisterous musicals and cozy cabarets. Jolly Holiday — a revue of Disney's greatest hits performed by five Disney on Broadway veterans — marks the theater's first holiday season back. And despite the show's meager premise and modest scale, it somehow exceeds all expectations set by typical winter wonderland fare. Maybe it's the magic of the mouse (or Alan Menken), but two acts of Disney medleys linked by cutesy banter offers enough heart-warming nostalgia and unfettered joy to melt the Grinchiest of hearts.
If it sounds like an advertisement for Disney's stage properties, that's because it most certainly is. Paper Mill and Disney have a long-standing simpatico relationship, Jolly Holiday marking the theater's seventh Disney production. It's where Newsies got its start, where The Hunchback of Notre Dame enjoyed the latter half of its US premiere (a coproduction with La Jolla Playhouse), and where the stage version of Hercules may be headed next season (or so Jolly Holiday's book writer Sandy Rustin has been given leave to hint). Between dropping statistics about the throngs of multilingual Disney shows onstage worldwide, and waxing poetic about dream Disney roles to which these actors grew up aspiring, this musical retrospective is as sparkling as the Magic Kingdom itself. Perhaps you have to choose to buy what Jolly Holiday is selling in order to get the full dose of happiness it's doling out. But like vowing not to buy the mouse ear hat at Disney World, resistance is futile.
All talk of capitalist hypnosis aside, Jolly Holiday's success should be credited to Paper Mill's grade A cast. Major Attaway, Dan DeLuca, Kara Lindsay, Jarran Muse, and Kissy Simmons sing their way through 13 different Disney musicals— and of course we're only singling out the biggest showstoppers from each one. The infinitely charming Attaway relives his time as Broadway's high-octane Genie in "Friend Like Me"; DeLuca returns to the role of Jack Kelly (which he originated on the Newsies national tour) to sing an impressive rendition of "Santa Fe"; Lindsay, who played Newsies' original Katherine Plumber at Paper Mill and on Broadway, joyfully performs her signature number "Watch What Happens"; Muse steals the Mary Poppins section with a tap dance break in "Step in Time"; and Simmons, a nine-year Nala on Broadway, offers a beautiful performance of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (a duet with Muse, who gets plenty of opportunities to show off his vocal chops in addition to his dancing skills).
They each tackle plenty of numbers they haven't before performed onstage as well. But these added moments of nostalgia and personal sentiment cut through the artifice of the show's marketing copy and make you actually feel like these talented folks are just trimming a tree and reveling in a Disney theme night at Marie's Crisis. Casey Hushion directs with this comfy sensibility, having her off-duty performers enjoying the show from the surrounding couches and chairs. Set designer Kelly James Tighe builds this atmosphere with a polished but warm living room space, centered around a piano (played by the excellent music director and conductor Geoffrey Ko) and a beautifully adorned, sky-high Christmas tree, on which show-specific ornaments are placed to button each musical segment.
Like most things Disney, Jolly Holiday is a well-oiled machine with heart. Like it or not, the songs on the bill comprise the soundtrack of either your childhood or your child's childhood. Sure, it's not not reminiscent of stumbling upon an infomercial for a 10-disc Disney compilation set at 2am. But I can guarantee that by morning you'll have called that toll-free number and signed up for three easy payments of $19.95.