By Richard Schultz, June 2016 Issue.

Larry Raben (pictured), the director of the world premiere of When You Wish, The Story of Walt Disney, recognizes the tribulations and the triumphs of finding one’s place in the world.

“Being a gay man, I recognize Walt’s journey in my own early struggles to express myself, be understood, and create the world around me in a way that made sense to me,” he said.

The musical, which Raban describes as cinematic in its construct and epic in its nature, follows Walt Disney from poverty and adversity into a success that is unparalleled in the entertainment industry.

Writer, composer and lyricist Dean McClure renders Walt, played by Joey Sorge, as a dreamer who suffers setbacks but perseveres with the support of his business partner and brother, Roy, his friend Ub Iwerks and his adoring wife, Lillian, portrayed by Sydney Marie Hawes.

The journey begins in 1908 with six-year-old Walt drawing cartoons at home and concludes with his biggest dream of all, the opening of Disneyland in 1955. Roy serves as the story’s narrator, taking the audience on a journey of struggle, heartache and enormous triumph. Pivotal moments in Disney’s life include the opening and bankrupt closing of Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Kansas City; the formation of Disney Brothers Studios in Hollywood; the marriage of Walt and Lillian Disney; the departure of his best and closest animator Ub Iwerks; and the creation of a mouse named Mickey, which ignited his career and legacy.

McClure endured a long road in developing the musical with several false starts and interest from a variety of individuals associated with the entertainment industry.

“The journey of When You Wish has been life-changing, partly because I’ve experienced much of what I’ve written, my life often paralleling that of Walt,” McClure said.

“I’ve learned the meaning of perseverance, how to pick yourself up and continue on, driven because deep down I know what I’m doing matters, which is how Walt felt about Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, Bambi, and especially Disneyland. Everything he ever did had never been done, and he was told repeatedly that his ideas would never work. All of Hollywood laughed when Walt announced he was going to make Snow White, the first full-length animated feature. Hollywood moguls called it ‘Disney’s folly’ until the night it opened, and they knew what he had.”

Similarly, Phoenix Theatre is paving the way by presenting the show’s first regional production on the road to Broadway.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned from the life of Walt Disney, it’s that no matter what we see on the nightly news, the world isn’t all bad, “ McClure said. “And by having the courage to dream, we can make it better. Walt did.”

In an effort to balance the emotional needs of the tale with the entertainment factor needed, Raben said he’s including a mix of live performance and multimedia.

Due to all of Walt’s work prior to 1928 being public domain, the production showcases Walt’s early animation and live action.

“I didn’t know anything about his early animated sensation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” Raben said. “It was really fun getting to research this early Disney superstar.”

According to Raben, his favorite scene in the production is “Someone In Love,” where Walt is walking his future wife, Lillian, home.

“It is both funny and touching and gives us a glimpse into Walt, the man,” he said. “So many artists and visionaries lack social cues. Those close to Walt have expressed that it was both an adorable and an infuriating personality trait.”

As he prepares for the show’s opening, Raben reflected, “Thankfully the world is a much changed place in 2016, but the LGBTQ community will always understand struggle, overcoming adversity, and personal triumph in a deep and meaningful way. We are gifted with a unique lens through with to view the world and humanity. And the world is better for the many gifts our perspective and experiences offer.”

Raben’s stage credits include directing Love Makes The World Go Round, the world premiere of Joe DiPietro’s Tony Award winning Falling For Eve Off-Broadway in New York and Singin’ In The Rain, for which won the LA Ovation Best Direction Award.

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