Review: ‘Small World: A Fantasia’ at 59E59 Theaters

By Jonathan Spira on 25 September 2017
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When I saw a notice that ‘Small World,’ a story about Walt Disney, was coming to 59E59 Theaters, describing it as a show that would “go behind the scenes of Disney’s classic ‘Fantasia,’” I started to count the days until I’d see it. “Fantasia” was the first full-length film I ever saw in a movie theater and it remains one of my all-time favorites, with a particular fondness for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene.

The premise of “Small World” is the real-world collaboration of Walt Disney and Igor Stravinsky on parts of “Fantasia” and the two are on stage for the entire play. Indeed, such meetings, imagined or otherwise, are in vogue in recent years: Witness “War Paint” (cosmetics entrepreneurs Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden) and “Freud’s Last Session (Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis), although as far as anyone knows, neither Rubinstein and Arden nor Freud and Lewis ever met. Disney and Stravinsky did however meet and collaborate, if you could call it that, on “Fantasia.”

Playwright Frederick Stoppel imagines three meetings between the two giants, the first in 1939 when Disney (Mark Shanahan) and Stravinsky (Stephen D’Ambrose) have a disagreeable encounter before screening a rough cut of “Fantasia.” The second meeting takes place once the Second World War has started and Stravinsky comes to Disney short on funds, while the third takes place in the hereafter.

I didn’t necessarily expect the same kind of backstory as one finds about J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland” but I did expect far more than was proffered – as did my fellow theatre critic John Buckley, who attended with me. “Small World” aims high but remains superficial, other than possibly alerting some theatergoers to Disney’s pro-Hitler and anti-Semitic tendencies (Disney to Stravinsky: “Just because a lot of your people happen to be rabble-rousers,” at which point Stravinsky explodes in disgust, “My people? I’m not Jewish,” having picked up on the code-words employed.)

The potential here was enormous, as was our disappointment, although Mark Shanahan proved more than capable of a mean Mickey Mouse imitation.

Finally, if you don’t own a copy of “Fantasia,” the 60th anniversary uncut edition is available on Amazon and elsewhere as is a special edition from 2010. Buy a copy (or watch it on Netflix) and enjoy the eight animated segments (each set to the music of a different composer including Dukes’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

THE DETAILS

Small World: A Fantasia
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
New York, N.Y. 10022
Runtime: 90 Minutes (no intermission)
www.59e59.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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