Claire Nowak

Sing Along with Disney

Milwaukee Symphony Pops concert is an all-Disney concert, with music from beloved films that may get the audience singing.

By - Apr 23rd, 2015 02:52 pm
Disney's Frozen

Disney’s Frozen

In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures produced the most polarizing phrase in the English language: “Let it go.

The mere mention of these words or the song to which they are

attached makes parents cringe and secretly curse Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for penning the catchy theme from the movie Frozen. Their children, on the other hand, take every opportunity to belt out the song, though it’s been almost two years since its release.

Yes, the Academy Award winner for Best Original Song may not have won the hearts of all its listeners, but it embodies the magic of Disney, its ability to bring a story to life and enchant an audience into a cult-like obsession with the right story and soundtrack.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will attempt to evoke that magic this weekend, as it performs “Disney In Concert: Tale As Old As Time.” The touring program features hit songs from Cinderella, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen (of course) and more. Vocalists Lisa Livesay, Whitney Claire Kaufman, Aaron Phillips and Andrew Johnson will accompany the orchestra, and high-definition clips from each song’s respective film will play behind the musicians.

Stuart Chafetz, MSO resident conductor from 2007 to 2011, returns to Milwaukee to conduct the show. He has conducted similar Disney programs in the past. As a percussionist, he especially loves the African-influenced rhythms from The Lion King. Though he eagerly watched Disney films on TV as a child, he found a new, deeper meaning in the soundtracks since taking part in the live performances.

“It’s one of those things where I can understand now after doing this program several times how universally loved Disney is,” he says.

Understanding that some fans may know the music almost as well as the musicians, Chafetz puts no extra flair or personal touches on the music. Audiences come to the shows to hear—and maybe sing-along with—the songs exactly as they remember them from the films. To stray from the original arrangements could ruin someone’s favorite song, so “it’s got to be right,” Chafetz says (he is also contractually obligated to play the scores as written).

But he needs to please more than just aspiring princesses dressed up like Queen Elsa or Rapunzel. The audience demographic for “Disney In Concert” is multi-generational, including older listeners who attend for the nostalgia of “old-school” Disney days, when Mary Poppins and the original Mickey and Minnie cartoons were released. And so the trick is create a family-friendly show that works for children of all generations.

8 p.m. April 24 & 25 and 2:30 p.m. April 26 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets cost $21-101, available online or by calling 414-291-7605, and are close to selling out.

Above the Town

What do you get when you cross a church musician, a banjo and mandolin instructor and a violinist for the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra?

A bluegrass band, of course.

Local acoustic trio Above the Town began in 2001 as a way for its members to experiment with various genres in a bluegrass style, despite their distinct musical backgrounds. Bill Brenckle, on lead vocals, guitar and mandolin, specializes in fingerstyle guitar (plucking the strings instead of strumming) and regularly performs with his wife in their church. Hartland Music instructor Jon Peik teaches banjo, mandolin and guitar and plays those same instruments in the group. When he’s not playing fiddle for Above the Town, Jerry Loughney plays violin with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra and Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois.

It’s not a usual threesome expected for this type of band, but the diversity helps make their sound memorable. Along with bluegrass, the musicians play jazz, swing Irish and even classical music. Most of their repertoire is cover songs with original arrangements, though they do write their own material as well. The set list for their upcoming concert Sunday at First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa includes Sawin’ On The Strings, Polka On The Banjo and Wagon Wheel.

The music is simple enough to play, but Loughney says that gives them leeway to be more creative with their interpretations of the pieces. All three also have jobs and projects outside of Above the Town—not to mention, families to care for—so opportunities to perform live fluctuate.

Loughney explains in an email that the extra time between shows lets them test out new arrangements to keep a fresh, artistic sound. “It also keeps us from going at each others’ throats.” Thank heavens for that.

4 p.m. April 26 at First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa, 1511 Church St. This event is free and will be recorded for the trio’s second album.

It’s a Magical, Musical World

Opera on Tap brings Broadway to Milwaukee with its upcoming concert, “It’s a Magical Musical World,” featuring highlights from musical theater classics and operettas. The program includes selections from Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, Ragtime and more. Singers are part of the local chapter of Opera on Tap, a national organization that aims to bring a historically exclusive art form to a broader audience.

7 p.m. April 28 at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Suggested admission donation is $10. Sprecher drinks provided.

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