Talk about a glow up, says Susan Egan.
From its beginnings in an intimate basement at Feinstein's/54 Below in Manhattan, where it started as the Broadway Princess Party cabaret show in 2015, "Disney Princess – The Concert" has grown to an 80-city tour, complete with 45-foot LED walls with custom Disney animation, costumes and thousands of adoring fans every night.
But what hasn't changed, says Egan — who voiced Meg in the animated film "Hercules" and earned a Tony nomination originating Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway — is its heart.
"(The cabaret) was supposed to be a kitschy one-off," she said, the brainchild of musical director and collaborator Benjamin Rauhala, the show's co-creator and "Fairy Godfairy."
"But this is the testament of Disney — it immediately touched the hearts of people," Egan said. "There's something about this music that captures that moment in your childhood, if you identified as Belle because you felt like an outcast or with this new generation Moana or Mulan, a warrior. Everybody has their different princesses that they at different times in their life identify with. It goes deeper than just this sort of fun frolicky evening. It plays on so many levels."
Young, Black and afraid: New play 'Jabari' aims to empower audiences
Garden of Dreams Talent Show: With heroic kids in spotlight, event back at Radio City Music Hall
"Disney Princess – The Concert," featuring Egan, Arielle Jacobs (Broadway’s Jasmine in "Aladdin"), Anneliese van der Pol ("That’s So Raven," Broadway’s final Belle in "Beauty and the Beast"), Syndee Winters (Broadway’s Nala in "The Lion King") and Adam J. Levy ("Waitress") as the Prince, hits the Kimmel Cultural Campus in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 12, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Wednesday, April 13.
The Princess project began to grow when the group, consisting at that time of Egan, co-creator Laura Osnes, Courtney Reed, "Prince" Adam Levy and Rauhala, started to perform outside the New York City area.
Egan is contractually obligated to attend events like Comic-Con due to her Disney animation work, which opened a new world to the group, with fans highly invested in characters and cosplay and pop culture.
The creative team behind the Princess Party started encouraging people to dress up to attend the shows, and developed the act over the next few years, touring small venues.
And then symphonies started reaching out, expressing interest in presenting the Princess show if the group could secure the rights for music charts.
"I said 'Okay kids, well it's time for me to call Disney,' " Egan said, laughing.
The Princess team expected Disney to balk at the idea. Instead, the company embraced it, providing custom animation for the tour, working with Rauhala's musical arrangements, and more.
It's the perfect show after the pandemic shutdown, Egan said.
"Disney brings so much joy, and these characters are so beloved," she said. "It's a healing thing and the show is a celebration. We're not taking any of it for granted. We feel very lucky that we get to be that show for them."
But make no mistake, the concert is not just for kids.
"Many generations have now loved these characters, and new characters are always coming, but their parents also loved them," Egan said. "And that's where our show really works at both levels. Think of a Pixar movie where the parents are laughing at one thing and the children are laughing at a different thing. That's what we always aim to do."
Disney music has a magical quality, Egan added, and takes on new significance now.
"We begin our show right now with 'When Will My Life Begin' (from 'Tangled') sung by Rapunzel, who is quarantined. Everything lands differently. 'Let It Go' (from 'Frozen') lands in a different way. 'Into the Unknown' (from 'Frozen 2') lands in a different way," Egan said.
"At the top of the second act, Syndee says 'It's Coronation Day' and you hear the opening chord for Anna's song ('For the First Time in Forever,' from 'Frozen') and the audience goes ballistic like we're The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. I think it's this touchstone to people's childhoods, but also this opening of the doors, to use the pun. After two-and-a-half years, it's finally having an outlet and finally being able to come together safely for a show and for material that is about a communal experience."
That community extends to the performers, Egan said. Rauhala's music allows for four-part harmony, and the women to support each other on stage.
"Not only do we get to love on each other, but we're diverse," Egan said. "The four of us are diverse, the characters are diverse. ... The ultimate message of the Princess celebration is courage and kindness. And I always say those are not mutually exclusive. It takes courage to be kind. And that's the messaging, along with the fact that these characters are defining their own destinies. It's very empowering for the young girls and boys in the audience."
It also encourages audiences to follow their dreams.
"It centers on Ben and his experience loving these princesses as a child, and where that has taken him," she said. "It's about all of our dreams coming true in the most unexpected ways, through a lot of work. There's a lot of messaging in this that isn't preachy, it's just present. But it does give some depth to this."
Also important to the show's core is that the performers are appearing as themselves, not their characters.
"Everybody should feel like a princess," Egan said.
The special nature of the concert struck Egan recently when Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in "The Little Mermaid," came to see it.
"She was sitting in the middle of the audience," Egan said, "and she said 'the wave of emotion from the audience, the sound of the little voices singing "Let It Go." You can't take it for granted.' And she was articulating so beautifully what we have all found, which is there is a magic to Disney, and it's a privilege that we get to deliver it."
During the winter leg of the tour, postponed from its original date due to COVID, the show will visit the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank on Nov. 26.
Ilana Keller is an award-winning journalist and lifelong New Jersey resident who loves Broadway and really bad puns. She highlights arts advocacy and education, theater fundraisers and more through her column, "Sightlines." Reach out on Twitter: @ilanakeller; email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Disney Princess - The Concert tours Philadelphia Kimmel, Newark NJPAC