The Making of Mickey and the Magician

Guests are streaming out of the newly baptised Animagique Theatre with grins on their face. Mickey and the Magician has done it, it is loved by guests. As a Disneyland Paris fan, I had felt the same when I got to see the show a few hours earlier but it is always a pleasure to have your thoughts confirmed by others. It is a sunny Saturday evening in the Walt Disney Studios Park and myself and a few other Disneyland Paris bloggers were waiting outside the Art of Animation to meet and interview the creators of the show.

We enter the building to find Belle’s beautiful dress placed in front of our seats, and beautiful it was. When you see the dress on stage, it looks beautiful, but the detail up close is breathtaking. We sit, gazing in wonderment at this outstanding creation, and then we wait. Suddenly, five figures emerge. It was time to begin our roundtable discussion focusing on the creation of Mickey and the Magician.

Belle's Dress - Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Parisa

This evening we would be interviewing: Katy Harris (Show Director); Michael Jung (Executive Creative, Walt Disney Imagineering); Tatiana Seguin (Choreographer); Tim Lutkin (Lighting Designer) and Paul Kieve (Illusionist).

The origins of Mickey and the Magician

After the closure of Animagique, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Imagineering started working very closely together. They knew they needed something very special to replace Animagique and there was a need to bring together rich and diverse Disney characters together through music and storytelling, as Michael Jung explained. The Mickey and the Magician show is a musical comedy which features live singers and plenty of surprises. It played on the core themes of magic and wonder which is at the centre of many Disney stories. Michael continues to explain ‘We played with the idea of magic makers and how that could be used to tell a story.’ There is an evident progression from the 1940 film Fantasia which saw Mickey starring as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The show also takes its inspiration from the city of Paris, the home of French cinema and the home of magic and illusion. All of these things started to come together at the turn of the 20th Century and that was the key setting for this adventure.

Katy Harris Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Paris

Katy Harris explains that the idea was also to give Mickey a starring role, and the desire to bring back the Mickey from the short films: the little boy who is funny and cute, who sometimes get things wrong. The development of the story was very much reliant of the characterisation of Mickey Mouse.

Creating a show in a Disney park is a unique experience. Paul Kieve and Tim Lutkin are both from a big-budget production background, but there are some advantages to working on site explains Tim. In the West End and Broadway, there are many differing departments, at Disneyland Paris it is very much one team working together all the time. The show feels much more like a team effort, it is an integrated experience.

But the team was not always together.  After an initial meeting in Disneyland Paris, the show was produced predominately through conference calls. These took place reasonably often during the development cycle and brought minds together from across the world. Very often you would have people in Tokyo, for example, waking up especially to take this call and to work on Mickey and the Magician.

The show is distinctly European in its style, something that Michael explained very eloquently. As an American, he says, it is difficult to really understand the culture. In his own words ‘You only know what you know.’ But what did they know? That audiences loved the character of Mickey and that he could resonate with this audience. The team was built with many members from different backgrounds, each of which brought something new and a different cultural understanding and perspectives. Having Katy and Tatiana, who are permanently at Disneyland Paris, really helps too. They see everyday the audience and they really do understand the audience and its diversity.

Michael Jung - Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Paris

Another complexity is that of language, explains Michael, in Shanghai everybody speaks Mandarin. Here at Disneyland Paris, there is a real mix of languages and so much within the european culture is timeless. So whilst Michael at WDI didn’t really know the culture, other people did and it all came together in order to create something that resonates with the park, its audience and the cast as well.

The Magic and Technology behind the show

The name Paul Kieve may not be one you have heard of before, but you have undoubtedly seen some of his works before. Paul has developed original magic for over 100 productions including: Ghost The Musical, Mathilda (The West End production), The Phantom of the Opera, Zorro, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Hugo amongst many others. Paul describes his passion as ‘magic and storytelling’, the idea of magic is at the heart of many stories and quite often performing magicians tend not to make that connection. Magicians were the first to incorporate illusions into stories. One of these magicians is Robert Houdin who performed between 1840 and 1860. After Houdin’s death, Georges Mélies bought Houdin’s theatre and called it the Robert Houdin theatre. The theatre was one of magic and Mélies performed on this very stage. In this show, Mélies did an illusion involving a man in the moon – an illusion that also makes its way into Mickey and the Magician.

Paul Kieve - Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Paris

Mickey and the Magician is very much a nod and acknowledgement of this history. As Paul explains ‘When you think of Disney, the next word that comes into your mind is magic. Disney Magic go together.’ For Paul, to create a show in Paris on Disney Magic with references to Mélies and Houdin is an absolute pleasure.

Paul remarks that there is a lot of different forms of magic, but the question is ‘What is Disney magic?’ This show is unique, nothing has ever been done like this in any Disney park before. In the 1960s, Disneyland in Anaheim had the closest magic show to this, but this was more simple stage illusions. But at Disney, there is a wealth of magic and in this show, a lot of magic in a short period of time. In modern magic shows, the amount of magic is actually quite small – it is primarily talk followed by the trick.

However, here the script written, and it is easy to write a line in a script. For instance, the Fairy Godmother making Cinderella’s dress appear is easy to write. The illusion actually took six months to create. How do you make something exist that does not exist? The thought process behind this is: How does this work? What is the technicality behind it? How will Paul achieve this? Then comes the process of getting it made. The new design Cinderella dress was actually made specifically for this trick.

It was also, for Paul, a privilege to work closely with Tim Lutkin. Tim shares with Paul a great interest in magic and illusion and because of this, Paul knew he could do things in the show that he would not be able to do otherwise. It became a truly collaborative process. Tim brought to Disneyland Paris a lighting rig of a similar size, if not bigger, than most Broadway productions. Mickey and the Magician is made up of 350 fixtures, 100 moving lights, 2000 channels of LED lights, 7000 LEDs in total. All in all the show features around 8000 lights where everything is entirely custom programmed. Tim notes that this is a ‘pretty big system.’

Tim Lutkin - Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Paris

Finally, once the show gets to the rehearsal stage in the theatre, it has to be ensured that the illusions are not visible from any of the seats. Paul spent many of his days in the run up to the launch sitting in the worst seats – he remarks that he still hadn’t seen the show from a good seat. Running a show five times a day is a challenge and many things can go wrong. If a light fails, how does that affect the show? There are many things that comes together to make one illusion. Paul was always looking for the bit that does not look quite right from any seat.

The show is very human. It is not simply projection and lights, it is a whole team of people coming together to do something at the right time. But, as Katy explains, like all attractions and shows, there is a test and adjustment phase. Mickey and the Magician is very similar to an attraction due to the number of technical and human elements. For instance, there is a stage manager and every cue is called manually.

Paul says that the act of making the Genie appear actually takes around 20 people. Yes it is the one person who appears, but behind each individual thing there is an entire team who makes it happen.

Disney Characters: A match made in magic

Mickey and the Magician takes its inspiration from the world of Paris, animation, Mélies, the moon and the zoetrope. But the show is really centered around the ‘magic makers’ and it is really quite rare that Disney get the chance to tell that story. The initial concept and real desire for the show was to give Mickey Mouse a starring role. Michael Jung of Walt Disney Imagineering says ‘Mickey represents so much, he can be many things. But we often forget, he is like us, he can be a little child. He wants to do good things, but he has a curiosity. He’s sometimes mischievous but always wants to do the right thing.’ We identify with Mickey, he likes to mess around by doing things such as riding the broom.

There were a lot of possible choices for characters in the show before they finally settled on those selected. Katy Harris, show director, explains that it essentially came down to the idea of wanting Mickey to learn some things. Knowing that, the selection process was deciding who could teach Mickey what the show creative team wanted him to learn? All the characters selected ended up being teachers within their stories, and that was vital for the story of Mickey and the Magician. In Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother nurtures and mentors Cinderella; Lumière teaches Beast how to love and win Belle’s heart; Rafiki is Simba’s guide; the Genie mentors, teaches and helps Aladdin and Elsa shares her experience of having confidence with magic. This simplified the story and they were good for the stage, they had good stories and music that could be portrayed in this theatre atmosphere. And when it comes to future scenes and seasonal updates, Katy says ‘Who knows…?’

Music and Dance: The heart of the story

Watching Mickey and the Magician is a journey for the audience, not just Mickey, and a large part of that is thanks to the music as well as the beautiful choreography. This round table discussion was a chance to explore that element of the show with Tatiana, Michael and Katy.

Tatiana Seguin - Mickey and the Magician Disneyland Paris

Tatiana Seguin, the choreographer of Mickey and the Magician, describes the dances in the show: In each bubble, Mickey is having fun with the magic makers. And this fun extends to the dance. So for Be our Guest there is a circus and ballet style with a waltz style of music. For Be Our Guest there is a very contemporary style to the scene with puppeteers dancing with props. For Friend like Me, James Spitfire choreographed a tap scene. The choreography in Mickey and the Magician exists to support the magic and the illusion. As has been previously described, everything exists to support everything else.

In order to get the perfect cast, Disneyland Paris auditioned around 700 people and now uses two rehearsal rooms. In these rooms, everything would be going on at once. It was described by Tim and Katy as chaos.

The initial workshop meeting for Mickey and the Magician took place shortly after the closure of Animagique. Here, all the key members of the production team were locked away in a room and began to discuss the elements that would come together to create the show. Joel McNeely worked on the project (who also did the music for Disney Dreams!), and during these initial meetings Joel would be making music suggestions and Tatiana would be dancing around the room bringing the show to life. But underneath all this is an entire original score. Joel underscored everything especially for the show which meant that the recording of the soundtrack occurred very late as everything essentially had to be perfected in order to create a linear show. Changes could be made without having to rescore the show.

The most interesting element of the show was, for me, the choice of reorchestration of various classics. I think it works beautifully, but I was curious. I asked the creators of the show: How did this come about, how did you decide on a certain style for a certain song?

Katy Harris responded saying that they looked at what the numbers could be. The numbers had to be very different, Beauty and the Beast had been in the parks before and it is in Disney Dreams!, so the question became ‘How could we do this differently?’ So the idea of circus emerged for Be our Guest. The direction then moved to a Fabio Fellini [Italian Film Director] style vibe and it evolved from there and a different world came into existence with trampolines on the tables, juggling and acrobatics.

Friend like me was very clear from day 1; it was going to be a tap routine. There were many discussions about this and not everybody was overly keen on the idea but it has since become one of the great moments in the show. This in itself caused challenges. France doesn’t have a tap scene – until now! But for Katy, this was a scene very close to her heart, she loves tap and it was very important to get into the show. James Doubtfire (Tap Dogs) was brought in to create the choreography. The idea here was not to have another Tap Dogs or Stomp, but to have a nice mix of classic and tap choreography. It was a collaboration that really has exploded into a fabulous number.

The Circle of Life scene was a difficult one. There is already a perfect version out there, and it was impossible to do a better version of it and so the question was one of translation. How would that fit into this show? Katy wanted a poetic scene, the emotional heart of the show. They have managed to fit a lot into 30 minutes and so it was nice to have a slower calm scene.

Mickey and the Magician Production Team Disneyland Paris

Michael says that it is beautiful to see the characters interact with the audience, it isn’t often that Disney breaks the fourth wall, but this scene allows for this very intimate moment. It is the spirit of Disney captured.

The scene began its life without the animals. Tatiana asked the dancers to be a cheetah if they were supposed to be one and then the puppets arrived. The performers initially felt like they were losing something but it all soon came together and there was some real spice in the scene, it’s nice to see.

A unique show, crafted especially for Disneyland Paris

In creating Mickey and the Magician, the Animagique Theater was entirely recreated, so much so that it feels like a brand new theatre. Everything is bespoke for Mickey and the Magician and the set sets the guest up perfectly for the experience that they are about to live.

Mickey and the Magician Production Team Disneyland Paris

I would like to extend my thanks to Katy, Michael, Tatiana, Tim and Paul for sitting down with us for this fantastic interview, and a big thanks to Mathias at Disneyland Paris for organising it. And if you would like to listen to the interview, you can right here:

 

 

Mickey and the Magician: The shining light at Disneyland Paris

 The closure of Amimagique created questions. What was coming next? Will it be as good as Animagique? How long will it be there for? Disneyland Paris very quickly announced that a new show: Mickey and the Magician would be coming in the summer.
I was very fortunate to have been invited by Disneyland Paris to the opening of that show. After having seen it three times in the course of the press weekend, I can safely say that Disneyland Paris have delivered. It is not too often that one can use the word amazing and truly mean it, but this is simply amazing and quite possibly the best show Disneyland Paris have ever produced. – And now, I warn you that there are SPOILERS ahead.

 

As you walk into the theatre, you’ll immediately remark how different it looks from the old Animagique set up. The stage area looks extremely different and is shrouded in a semi-transparent curtain which gives the illusion of distance and allows the show to seemingly ‘come to life’ right before your very eyes.

The show

Mickey and the Magician begins with the Magician stepping into the workshop and walking around the set checking the various artefacts as a new and original song is sung. This gives the feeling of a warm evening but is also a perfect set up for something magical. Tinkerbell flickers across the stage illuminating items that give us a clue as to what to expect in the upcoming thirty minutes and then Mickey appears. This Mickey is the new look Mickey with all of his talking and blinking features. Mickey’s wish is to be the best magician in the world. The Magician tells Mickey that he only has until the moon disappears to do his chores and make his wish come true. And with that, the Magician casts a spell and a moon appears on stage – this moon is gradually eroded as the show goes on to simulate the passing of time.

Mickey in Mickey and the Magicin

For Mickey’s first trick, he makes the Fairy godmother appear on a chair and a very whimsical version of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo begins. Mickey and the Fairy Godmother bounce around the stage. This perfectly sets the tone of these little scenes and provides a real bouncy, happy song for the audience to clap along to. The star of this scene though, is Cinderella herself. Given a fresh look for this show, she looks amazing as she twirls with Mickey to the song So this is love. The Fairy Godmother makes the dress appear by simply pointing her magic wand and is just one of the mesmerising illusions that this show features. As Cinderella rides off in her golden carriage a piece of the moon disappears. Mickey goes back to work.

Cinderella in Mickey and the Magician

The next scene involves Lumière singing Be our Guest, but this is not the Be Our Guest that you are familiar with, this is a mix of circus and waltz which makes a wonderful and charming scene. The performers in this scene jump around a lot and are performing circus tricks before they move on to a beautiful waltz. As whilst this scene is incredible, it is nothing compared to what comes next as Belle and the Beast emerge onto the stage and perform their ballroom dance to the song Beauty and the Beast. This section is tear-inducing; it is so beautiful and was very unexpected. To see this scene come to life in such a way in Disneyland Paris was fantastic – and long overdue, thank you to the Disneyland Paris teams who took this decision, it is great appreciated.
Belle and the Beast in Mickey and the MagicianFrom one beautiful scene to another. The Lion King scene allows Mickey to discover the Circle of Life. Each scene has seemingly its own unique feature. This scene is heavy on audience interaction as the animals come walking through the audience. The highlight of this for me is a mother giraffe kissing her baby. For those wondering, this takes place near the stairs as you enter the theatre on the left hand side. Rafiki is perfectly suited to her role, she has a powerful voice that fills the theatre with confidence. This is a general theme to this show, the vocal talent is phenomenal. This scene is a difficult one to discuss, I still haven’t seen all of it. There is so much happening across the entire theatre that it requires multiple repeat viewings for it all to sink in. This scene’s highlight is the very end as Rafiki climbs Pride Rock and all the animals have appeared on the stage. The song ends as the animals of the pride lands and Mickey take a bow towards Rafiki. This scene is a visual feast for the eyes and ears.

Lion King in Mickey and the Magician

As another slice of the moon is eroded, Mickey finds a lamp. He accidentally activates the it and the Genie appears. This is how the show stopping scene begins. What can be said about the Friend like me scene? It is, quite simply, the best scene in the show. It is this scene that will stay with you, quite possibly forever. It is ambitious and bold. After his short introduction, Genie begins his Broadway-inspired sequence that has a phenomenal tap routine as its core. It is difficult to pin point the standout feature of this sequence. Instead, permit me to say the lighting on this scene is spellbinding. The difference in colours from verse to verse, note to note really does create an atmosphere that renders this scene a visual feast. It is colourful and fun. But then the music, the music is so beautifully created to put a spin on a popular classic and allow this giant tap number to come to life. And trust me when I say, this tap routine is simply put, this best choreography to a section of music that I have ever seen. Each of the three times I saw the show, it put a shiver down my spine and a grin on my face.

Genie in Mickey and the Magician

I would also here like to mention the illusions – and this is something I am shying away from in this review. I want you to go and see this show not knowing what to expect from these or where to look for them – but the Genie performs a trick with a postal box. He levitates it, spins it around (and there is no visible attachment to anything) and puts it down. Upon putting it down, a dancer emerges from the box. It is a mind blowing illusion and the only one that I don’t have even the slightest idea of how the managed to achieve it. This scene is unbelievable. I cannot stress this enough. Aladdin may not be my favourite film, but it is undeniable that this song is a classic and can truly be had fun with.

 

The final of the big scenes is the Queen Elsa Let It Go sequence. This scene is introduced by Olaf who comes on stage and has a moving mouth piece. It also appears that Josh Gad himself did the voice over work for the show which makes specific mention to Mickey and Magic. This is the only song in which Mickey is not on stage for. Elsa is the real star here. Specifically, Elsa’s dress is the star. Elsa appears in her coronation day outfit, and as she sings Let It Go her dress magically transforms into her Queen Elsa signature dress. Whilst the illusion itself is reasonably obvious, the execution still left me spellbound. There isn’t too much to say about this scene, it is everything you expect from Let It Go but takes place on a fantastic staging with a skilled team providing the technical elements. A huge congratulations to the Elsa I saw on all showings, singing Let It Go is not easy, but she pulled it off effortlessly. This scene also has some enjoyable special effects. Perhaps the Let It Go scene is the only one that features just one character on stage, but Elsa has such a presence that it works.

Queen Elsa and Olaf in Mickey and the Magician

As the moon vanishes from the stage, Mickey is slowly becoming a magician. The set props begin to come to life as they dart around the stage. Mickey’s sudden sadness at not mastering magic makes him sit glumly on the stage. But our friend the Magician returns and begins to show him that he is a true magician. As Mickey makes the leap from apprentice to magician all of our friends come back out on to the stage for one last big finale number. And what a finale this is, it is big one again. The song is incredibly catchy and will remain lodged in your head for days. This scene pretty much summarises the entire show for me, it is fun, it is magic and ambitious. The lights go out on the stage and the show is over. But what a show it is!

Humour

Mickey and the Magician has a lot of humour in it which came very much as a surprise to me. This is initiated almost instantly as the magician’s hat comes to life. This hat is a stroke of near-genius. It manages to say everything and nothing at all but communicating in a made up language. Mickey himself is also extremely amusing. In fact, he gets the biggest laugh of the show. Immediately following the Let It Go sequence, Mickey comes on stage and begins to sing the song, only to give up and hum the rest. The humour helps move the show along between scenes, but also gives it a wonderful personality.

Sad Mickey in Mickey and the Magician

Languages

Mickey and the Magician is presented in English and French simultaneously. Though in a way I have never seen done in Disneyland Paris before. Many of the songs are in both languages, and the singer simply seamlessly switches between languages. It works beautifully and is not even noticeable. A perfect compromise for Disney’s European audiences where a language barrier can be a problem.

 

Sound and Lighting

The show has a fantastic sound and lighting system. Whilst many of the talking points of it will undoubtedly be the show’s stars and songs, one of the stars of the show has to be everybody who worked on the sound and lighting. Lighting is paramount to the mood of the scenes, and fills the theatre. The colours in the show are very rich and tasteful and is a real Disneyland Paris success story. The sound in the theatre is also exceptional. During the Aladdin scene, the sounds are so rich and beautiful that they truly do transport you to another world.

Song Selection

The song selection is very strong, perhaps the only critique I’d lay on the show is that many can be heard in Disney Dreams!, although the styles presented here are very different that the show is still unique and stands side-by-side with Dreams! perfectly. And so my criticism of the show is really nullified in my mind. I’d happily watch Dreams! and this show back to back. I think Disneyland Paris manage to keep finding shows that have exceptional stage potential and present them in a way that is unique and engaging. I would doubt that there will be anybody watching this show that is bored at any moment.  This show could be changed and other songs being transplanted in, but that would weaken it in my opinion.

Mickey and the Magician Finale

Closing Remarks

In conclusion, Disneyland Paris has created something truly exceptional with Mickey and the Magician, the show has really stretched the boundaries of what a Disneyland Paris musical show is and could be. I have long argued that, in Paris, we have the best entertainment team of any Disney resort. Mickey and the Magician proves this statement true, it is by far the best show we’ve ever had at Disneyland Paris and quite likely the best Mickey show in any Disney park worldwide ever. Disneyland Paris has finally made it; the rest of the world will look upon this with intense jealousy. Congratulations Disneyland Paris on a real success that I hope we will be able to enjoy time and time again. I already cannot wait to see it again and would hurry back in an instant to take in this show again.