By BRUCE DENNILL
With nothing more than a baby grand on stage, first impressions are that Dreamland is going to be a revue of Disney soundtrack tunes, given extra gravitas by virtue of the performer, DuPreez Strauss, having been the associate music director and orchestra conductor for The Lion King for many years.
The populist aspects of that formula are here, and there aren’t a lot of ways to go wrong for an audience of Disney fans with a setlist that includes Circle Of Life from the Lion King, Part Of Your World from The Little Mermaid, A Whole New World from Aladdin, You’ll Be In My Heart from Tarzan and Let It Go from Frozen. But what makes the show memorable rather than simply pleasant is the thread of storytelling that joins the songs, using humour, passion and honesty.
Strauss has a remarkably expressive face, and he communicates wide-eyed wonder, and later intense conviction, through committed interaction with the audience and vital, urgent body language. He breaks down the not-at-all ‘secret’ formula that Disney have used in their films for nearly a century, amusingly linking stories from different decades and continents into one great thematic sweep, punctuated by authoritative piano playing as he returns to his sheet music and instrument.
Woven into the analysis of the adventures of Disney’s many princesses and other heroes are elements of Strauss’ own story. He speaks of a difficult childhood in which aspects of his development were not appreciated, followed by a career that, though successful, took him to any number of locations where he faced different challenges in terms of integrating into communities and really finding himself.
Vulnerability in a context where confidence is and should be backed up by talent (see also reviews featuring Sting and Jonathan Roxmouth) adds depth and a reason to want to connect with both the performer onstage and the material they are presenting, and in Dreamland, Strauss combines skill, passion and sincerity to create a heartwarming, entertaining package.