This Thursday’s installment of the free outdoor lunchtime entertainment series Broadway in Bryant Park featured a selection of numbers from the Disney hits The Lion King, Frozen, and Aladdin, hosted by 106.7 LITE FM radio’s Delilah with co-host L. Steven Taylor, who plays Mufasa in The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre and has been with the production for nineteen years. It was a delight for all ages, and, as she shared with the audience, one of Delilah’s own favorite events of the year, having taken her children and grandchildren to all three of the shows multiple times and having become familiar with every song and move. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, she was not alone!
Among the eleven Disney numbers were three Oscar winners for Best Original Song from the movie versions of the stage adaptations – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King, “Let It Go” from Frozen, and “A Whole New World” from Aladdin – sung respectively by Pearl Khwezi and Brandon McCall, Charissa Hogeland, and Michael Maliakel and Mikayla Renfrow, all bringing their beautiful voices and emotional expressiveness to the enthusiastic audience at Bryant Park.
Opening the concert with a powerful rendition of “Circle of Life” from The Lion King – now the second longest running show on Broadway, with more than 9,000 performances since 1997 – was Tshidi Manye, who has been with the production even longer than Taylor, for 23 years. Two more of its numbers, “They Live in You” and “Shadowland,” were also interspersed in the set list, as was a reprise of “Circle of Life,” which served as the grand finale and brought together the afternoon’s entire Disney cast.
Along with Hogeland from Frozen was Chad Burris, as the Snowman, bringing the laughs with “In Summer,” and in addition to Maliakel, who also performed “Proud of Your Boy,” and Renfrow, soloing on “These Palace Walls,” was the terrific Caleb Barnett singing and dancing to the exuberant “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin and, together with Maliakel, leading Zach Bencal, Brad Weinstock, and Max Ehrlich in the high-spirited “Somebody’s Got Your Back.”
The concert also included a pre-show sneak peek at the upcoming musical How to Dance in Ohio – inspired by Alexandra Shiva’s Peabody Award-winning documentary of the same name, and originally developed with the legendary Broadway director Harold Prince – which will begin previews at the Belasco Theatre on November 15, and open on December 10.
With book and lyrics by Rebekah Greer Melocik, music by Jacob Yandura, choreography by Mayte Natalio, and direction by Sammi Cannold, the cast features seven autistic actors (Desmond Edwards, Amelia Fei, Madison Kopec, Liam Pearce, Imani Russell, Conor Tague, and Ashley Wool), all making their Broadway debuts and reprising their roles from the world-premiere engagement at Syracuse Stage, of seven real-life autistic young adults preparing for a spring formal dance at a group counseling center in Columbus. Joining them in the cast are Broadway veterans Haven Burton, Darlesia Cearcy, Carlos L Encinias, Nick Gaswirth, Melina Kalomas, and Martín Solá.
Representing them on stage at Bryant Park – though many members of the cast and team were there behind the scenes, handing out souvenir fans on the warm summer day, talking to the crowd and press, and supporting their castmates – were Cearsy and Burton with their blockbuster duet on “Getting Ready for the Dance” and Pearce with a stellar performance of “Building Momentum,” which had everyone cheering and looking forward to the Broadway debut of this talented young artist and this significant new musical in the fall.
The exciting 2023 season of Broadway in Bryant Park wraps up next Thursday (July 27), with 106.7 LITE FM hosts Cubby & Christine introducing a pre-show performance by the cast of Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors, followed by selections from & Juliet, Back To The Future, New York, New York, and Shucked performed by members of their Broadway casts.
Broadway in Bryant Park plays on Thursday, July 27, 2023, 12:30-1:30 pm (with the lawn opening and rehearsals beginning at 11 am), in Bryant Park, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, 40th-42nd Street, NYC. All performances are free and open to the public; tickets are not needed and masks are not required.