TCT Delights the Family with Disney’s ‘The Descendants’ Musical
By Kathleen Lamorelle
Parents and children alike will have a great time at The Children’s Theater of Cincinnati’s Production of Disney’s Descendants, The Musical, a comedy directed by Roderick Justice and artfully choreographed by Maddie Burgoon Jones. This clever mash-up of the iconic villains we love to hate, along with their conniving teenage offspring, is sure to entertain and delight the entire family.
In the kingdom of Auradon, the fairy tale life for all of Disney’s beloved characters is good; they are safely separated from the evil villains who were banished to the Isle of the Lost – a miserable, magic-free island. The kingdom’s good and bad citizens live completely isolated from each other until Ben, the innocent and kind-hearted son of Belle and King Adam (The Beast), invite the misfit children of the villains to attend Auradon Prep School. Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos – the children of Maleficent, the Queen Grimhilde, Cruella De Vil, and Jafar – are welcomed to the school, given a chance at redemption, and find themselves questioning their desire to follow in the footsteps of their infamous parents. Enlightened by the possibility of choosing a different path in life, the teens are torn between implementing an evil plot perpetrated by their parents and doing the “right” thing. On their journey, the young characters are tested, self-discoveries unfold, unexpected friendships are forged, and the teens are emboldened to advocate for themselves.
The first of many eye-popping numbers, “Rotten to the Core” immediately wows kids with its deep, “wicked” chords, lime green spot lights and neon set, flashing light sticks and hoverboards, energetic choreography, and rhythmic harmonies. Parents can relate to the passionate lament that “not everyone is their mother.” Classics such as “Be Our Guest,” modernized with rap, give the production a contemporary flair. Quick scene changes are tailored to the short attention spans of young children, teens relate to the school spirit and emotional drama, while adult humor keeps parents engaged.
The talented, enthusiastic cast performs well together and are fun to watch. Each member commits to their role with passion. Marissa Pool (Maleficent) is adeptly cunning and manipulative, using her own daughter to achieve her devious goals. Mackenzie Ruff (Evie) adds spunky, comedic fun with a mixture of attitude and self-doubt. She hides her intelligence to get the boy. The false stereotype that smart girls are unlikeable is still reinforced in modern society. Undoubtedly, many girls in the audience can relate. But – whew! Disney is here to teach another valuable lesson: one’s true and hoest self is indeed likable and worthy.
In “The Space Between,” performed by Makenzie Ruff (Evie) and Savannah Slaby (Mal), the girls sing with heartfelt emotion about friendship and loyalty. The harmonies of “I Can Go the Distance” are lovely. Every generation can relate to the lyric: “I would go almost anywhere to find where I belong.” Ms. Slaby’s clear and powerful voice is showcased in her strong performance of “If Only.” Payton Trout (Ben) is vulnerable and sweet, falling into young love, acting as peace-maker and the ultimate good guy, and is amusingly convincing during the “fish out of water” scene when the teenagers return to the Isle of the Lost.
Running the gamut from whimsical to beautiful, the costumes capture the attention and help create a wonderful feel of fantasy. The audience audibly sighs in awe when dancers emerge in enchanting winged capes, lit with bright white bulbs (a timely nod to the upcoming Blink Cincinnati). Bright, bold, flashing lights are used to effectively stamp the scene as “good” or “evil.” The set is characteristically colorful in Disney-style. A multitude of props, readily recognizable to children, are utilized throughout the show to portray a typical school atmosphere.
Clever moments abound, such as Tina DeAlderete as Snow White, reporting on the hottest fashion at the Prince’s Coronation from the red carpet, donned in her iconic yellow, blue, and red, and Dain Alan Paige as Jafar, teaching his son Jay, played by Gabriel Kanai Nakata, how to nail the perfect, nefarious laugh.
The punched-up dance sequences and musicality of the ensemble are notable, adding spirited energy and excitement to the production and making the story accessible to young audiences. The choreography, reminiscent of High School Musical fame, is high-energy and made for this generation.
The Descendents, book by Nick Blaemire and music adaptation by Madeline Smith, is visually captivating entertainment, filled with lively singing and dancing and a few life lessons thrown in for good measure. As a young, happy fan proclaimed, “it’s a ten!” With tickets starting at $10, it’s affordable entertainment for the entire family. See the show, playing at The Taft Theatre, through October 15, and discover “All the Ways to Be W-I-C-K-E-D!” Get your tickets HERE.