‘High School Musical’ coming to SF

Let the squealing begin.

Disney’s tween entertainment behemoth High School Musical has just been announced as a “special spring engagement” in SHN’s Best of Broadway season in San Francisco.

HSM, as the kids call it, has already been two phenomenally successful made-for-TV musicals on the Disney Channel, a string of best-selling soundtrack, sing-along and scream-along CDs and innumerable spin-off products from backpacks to makeup kits to kissable Zac Efron posters.

Though we’ve seen numerous community and school productions of HSM in the Bay Area, the production arrriving in April of 2008 to the Orpheum Theatre will be the first professional version of the show.

HSM on stage has a book by David Simpatico (adapted from the original movie script by Peter Barsocchini) and a score that has all the songs from the original soundtrack plus two new songs. The live orchestra and cast numbers 34.

Says Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher (also a San Mateo native): “Our stage version of this great property has been mounted as a direct response to overwhelming demand. As someone who has been passionate about theater since I was a kid, I am thrilled that we are touring this remarkably popular title as a fully realized stage production, and most certainly introducing countless young people to the world of theater for the very first time. You can’t ask for more than that. It’s a great joy and privilege for us to be able to produce and present the Disney Channel’s enormously popular property on stage.”

The creative team includes director Jeff Calhoun (Big River), choreographer Lisa Stevens and music supervisor Bryan Louiselle.

And no, Mr. Efron, Vanessa Hudgens nor Corbin Bleu will be in the cast.

Tickets will range from $23 to $85 and will go on sale Dec. 17. Visit www.shnsf.com for information. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

Enchanted by `Enchanted’

Last night I attended a screening of Disney’s big holiday movie, Enchanted, and I have to say, I was pretty charmed by the notion of a classic Disney animated feature turned on its head and morphed into a modern-day, live-action musical.

The trailer gives you a pretty good idea what the movie’s all about:

The songs are by the Academy Award-winning dynamic Disney duo of Stephen (Wicked) Schwartz and Alan (Beauty and the Beast) Menken. The pair previously collaborated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And though there aren’t enough songs for my taste, there are two — a huge, joyful production number in Central Park that ends in a veritable festial surrounding Bethesda Fountain, and a romantic waltz at a ball sung by Jon McLaughlin — that make me anxious for the CD (slated for release Nov. 20, and the movie comes out Nov. 21).

Amy Adams plays Giselle, a gentle (and somewhat simpleminded) lass who has Snow White’s woodland cottage and affinity for all creatures great and small. In her hand-drawn animation bliss, she has Ariel’s red hair and Belle’s taste in clothes. Her Prince Charming (Edward, actually, played by James Marsden in his second musical of the year after Hairspray) is more taken with himself than with Giselle, but every prince needs his princess.

Of course Edward’s stepmother, the Queen (Susan Sarandon chewing the scenery), has a problem with a potential new queen, so she and her bumbling sidekick (Timothy Spall) figure out a way to kick Giselle out of animated fairy tale land and into the harsh reality of Times Square.

Soon Prince Edward, the sidekick and, eventually, the queen herself, end up in the real world, where people, doggone it, just don’t spontaneously burst into song.

Giselle is saved from a downpour by handsome lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey, naturally), single dad to an adorable princess-deprvied daughter (Dad wants her to have strong women role models like Marie Curie and Harriet Tubman). Of course they think this beautiful redhead is absolutely bonkers, but they both fall for her charms.

Robert’s somewhat harsh girlfriend is played by Idina Menzel (the Tony Award-winning star of Schwartz’s Wicked), who doesn’t even get to sing a song, which is a shame.

There’s a lot of charm in this movie — not the least of which is a computer-animated chipmunk named Pip that nearly steals the picture — and the “let’s make fun of musicals while loving them at the same time” tone works well .

That said, I have reservations — and they’re cynical and very non-fairy tale in spirit. I can just hear the Disney corporate meetings that concocted what amounts to a giant commerical for its new line of princess toys and princess costumes and princess birthday party kits and princess everything under the sun. The princess business is already booming, and this movie is sure to kick it into even higher gear (I hear there are already Macy’s tie-ins).

I’m all for girl-power, feminist-revisionist fairy tales, and when, at the end of Enchanted, it’s up to Giselle to save her mister in distress, it should be a lot more triumphant than it is. There were so many opportunities to be clever and smart here, and Adams’ utterly captivating performance (sincere and silly in equal measure, knowing and hearfelt and, yes, enchanting) could have take the movie to a much more finely etched portrait of female empowerment and charm. But the script (and the heavy-duty special effects) ultimately disappoints.

And may I chime in with all the 10-year-old girls and complain that we don’t get to see the final, most important wedding (there is a wedding, but it’s not really the one we want to see). And there should be a great final musical number, not a soundtrack song by Carrie Underwood.

Here’s the official Enchanted Web site. There are film clips and behind-the-scenes glimpses.

Ice, ice, baby

Admit it. You’re wondering what it was like.

Cheesy? Silly? Stultifying? Genius?

Yes, yes, not so much and no.

We’re talking, of course, about Disney’s High School Musical: The Ice Tour, which opened Thursday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland and then heads to San Jose’s HP Pavilion.

The easy answer is High School Musical, the phenomenally successful Disney Channel movie musicals, are as good on the ice as they were on the small screen. Given your age bracket, that could mean many things.

The experience of The Ice Tour is just that – it’s an experience. The on-ice choreography, the pyrotechnics, the gee-whiz positivity of the blandly perky pop score are all fine and dandy. But watching the audience – to borrow from Lily Tomlin here – is the real art.

Looking around the arena, you couldn’t help but be moved by the gazillions of kids – young, mostly girls, ages 8 to 11 I’d guess – singing along with every word, waving their red-and-white East High School pennants with the abandon of a junior pep squad. The screams were ratcheted up to Beatles ’64 intensity.

And what’s even funnier, is that a whole lot of the moms (not many dads, though there were an intrepid few) had equally big smiles on their faces and were also singing along in between bites of popcorn and nachos.

The pop-culture phenomenon of High School Musical really is something to see – and hear.

As for the show itself, directed by Broadway veteran Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Chucky Klapow and Cindy Stuart (faithfully following the movie moves created by Klapow, director Kenny Ortega and Bonnie Story), is a fast-moving re-creation of both HSM movies. Act 1 finds Troy meeting Gabriella on New Year’s Eve, their romance and their split alliances – to the school musical, to each other and to Academic Decathlon (her) and the basketball team (him). Act 2 is a summertime fling, with the East High Wildcats working at a luxurious resort and the Paris Hilton-y Sharpay making a move for Troy.

All the songs are squeezed into the nearly two-hour show, and the momentum of the piece cannot be denied. By sheer force of cheerfulness, everyone – even the reluctant adults – has a good time.

Jordan Brauninger and Lane Walker are suitably adorable as Troy and Gabriella, though I must confess I was fonder of Sandy Rucker and Peter Bonard Muck as weirdly intimate brother-sister team Sharpay and Ryan.

The one big improvement over the movies is Troy’s big solo, “Bet On It.’’ In the movie Zac Efron bounces through the ultra-green golf links like a junior Kevin Bacon trying to cut footloose. But on the ice, Brauninger (lip-synching the movie soundtrack, as all the skaters do) gets to show his moves in a much more impressive manner.

I could live another day without hearing “You Are the Music in Me” or “Get’cha Head in the Game” again, but every time I’m exposed to HSM, I react retroactively: my 10-year-old self would have flipped for this squeaky-clean Disney phenom.

Visit the official High School Musical: The Ice Tour here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I gleefully accepted Disney HSM swag including red-framed glasses that blink red lights; a souvneir program that plays “We’re All in This Together” when you open it; red-and-white pompoms; and a sign to cheer for my favorite character (no, I didn’t choose Troy or Gabriella or even Ryan — I picked the one that said CHAD in big, bold letters. All of the swag, except for the sign, has been passed on to fans under the age of 10.

Chucky on ice

So many things are good on ice _ lemonade, oysters, the Sharks _ but High School Musical on Ice? Really?

Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice, sure. But a made-for-TV movie about chipper high schoolers coming to terms with friendship, self-empowerment and sassy dance moves? Hmmm. Sounds like Disney is going to milk the High School Musical franchise — which already includes a phenomenally successful sequel to the original movie, a professional touring stage show and countless community theater productions — for all it’s worth.

High School Musical: The Ice Tour (it’s apparently passe to be On Ice) arrives in the Bay Area next Thursday and continues through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, then moves to the HP Pavilion in San Jose Oct. 24 through 28.

To ensure that Troy and Gabriella, Ryan and Sharpay, Chad and all the others retain their youthful exuberance, Disney and ice producer Kenneth Feld approached the original creative team to help make the transition to ice.

Kenny Ortega, who directed and co-choreographed the two HSM movies, recommended they use one of his fellow Emmy-winning co-choreographers: 27-year-old Charles Klapow, who prefers to be called Chucky.

Chucky Klapow was thrilled to get Ortega’s call, but there was only one problem in his mind: He didn’t know how to ice skate.

The ice folks said that wouldn’t be a problem because he could still teach the dance routines and “protect the integrity of the original moves.”

But for Chucky Klapow, not skating was not an option.

“The way I coach is by example,” he says on the phone from Manhattan just before HSM: The Ice Tour opened at Madison Square Garden. “The dancers feed off my energy. I show the move, demonstrate it so they can see how it looks and feels.”

So with the help of his fellow ice choreographers, Klapow learned to skate.

“I was doing an axle in 20 days,” he boasts. “The first one was a really bad, cheated axle, but I’ve been working on it. It’s still not great.”

So for someone who began his dancing career at 12 and has danced for Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Salt-N-Pepa and in Austin Powers, how does it feel to move on ice?

“Skating is a rush,” the Los Angeles native says. “It’s addictive. You master one jump and want the next one. It’s a cool feeling.”

Choreography for a movie — with everything directed to the camera — is one thing. Choreographing for an audience on three sides, not to mention the whole ice and skates factor, is quite another.

“What you can do on a floor in shoes you can’t necessarily do on a blade on ice,” Klapow says. “And the ice is so vast with the audience everywhere. You have to turn the choreography out and share the energy. The challenge was to keep each number recognizable and as true to the film as possible, but then cover a huge stage of ice. Each number was like solving a puzzle.”

For this icy HSM, the first movie and all its songs are confined to the first act. Act 2 features all the songs and plot from HSM 2. That’s a lot of show to learn, and Klapow and his cohorts were teaching all of this to three separate casts: two North America tours and one international tour.

“The whole process took about 2 1/2 months,” Klapow says. “We worked with skaters really quickly, but I’m super proud of it. Every time we set a number, it turned out to be better than we thought it would be.”

And here’s an added bonus: Klapow met someone special as a result of this near-arctic adventure.

“I met a girl during the rehearsal process,” Klapow says, and even though he’s on the other end of the phone lines, you can just tell he’s smiling. “Not only did I learn to skate and choreograph for the ice, I met somebody.”

Thinking back to those early days when HSM was just another in-development Disney Channel TV musical, Klapow says he had no idea he was about to become involved in a phenomenon.

“When I heard it was going to be called High School Musical, I thought, `Ugh. No one’s going to watch that!’ ” Klapow recalls. “But making the movie was an amazing experience. We had a ball doing it and knew it was something special. I don’t think any of us expected the level of success we got. I was just so happy I got to work on production numbers with 100 people in them. When was I going to get an experience like that again? It was like an old movie musical. The the second film was even bigger. I’m so lucky — I got to do it twice.”

The kety to the show’s success, Klapow says, is that it strikes a balance between the boys and the girls, sports and drama, sinigng and dancing, skaters and brainiacs and all the rest.

“It’s such a positive message,” Klapow says. “We’re all in this together. It’s all about teamwork, all for one, acceptance of everybody, friendship. That’s why people fall in love with it — it’s all about innocence and fun. It’s totally the `Saved by the Bell’ formula.”

Klapow will likely be involved in High School Musical 3, which is reportedly being readied for the big screen and will begin shooting in January. “I’m talking to Kenny about it,” he says.

“High School Musical: The Ice Tour” runs Thursday through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena, I-880 at 66th Avenue, Oakland. Tickets are $18 to $60. Call 510-625-8497, 415-421-8497 or 408-998-8497 or visit www.ticketmaster.com for information. The show moves to HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, Oct. 24-28.

And check out Klapow’s Web site at www.chuckyk.com.

First a tea cup, then stardom

Remember the name James Zongus. You just might be able to say you knew him when.

Though only 12 years old, James, a Foster City resident, has been performing for nearly a decade, and his story is strikingly familiar if you know the song “I Can Do That” from A Chorus Line.

Like the kid in the song, James would follow his two older sisters to dance class, and at age 3, he all but demanded to share the stage with his sisters in The Nutcracker.

“I was at a rehearsal and said, `I want to be in the show!’ So they cast me in a little part,” James recalls. “I got to walk across the stage and do a little bit of dancing. After that I just kept on going.”

James played Oliver in Oliver! with the Bay Area Educational Theatre Company in San Mateo, and last year he was one of the king’s children in the The King and I at American Musical Theatre of San Jose.

When Bowditch Middle School, where James will be in the eighth grade come September, joined with two other schools to produce Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, James played the role of Chip, the tea cup son of Mrs. Potts, the tea pot.

Like Olivier returning to the role of Hamlet, James will once again essay Chip, only this time for Broadway by the Bay.

For his audition, he found a song he thought would be good for Beauty and the Beast, what with its singing and dancing flatware and furniture.

“I sang `Hey, Look Me Over’ because the song has the words `rose’ and `spoon’ and `fork’ in it,” James explains. “It went really well. They laughed.”

In this production, which opens Saturday at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, James, like all the Chips before him, appears to be a tea cup-encased head on a rolling cart. There’s a bit of stage magic involved in Chip’s appearance, but James won’t give away the secret.

When asked if it’s a comfortable way to perform, he will say this: “It’s not comfortable. No way.”

But he’s enjoying working on the show and with Tracy Chiappone, who plays his mother.

“She’s very nice and easy to work with and gives me good advice,” James says.

James’ real mom, Joanne Zongus, says having a performer in the family requires the support of the entire family for both logistical and emotional reasons.

“We told him we’d make the commitment if he was willing to make the commitment and keep his grades up between a 3.5 and 3.8 and keep himself healthy and keep his commitment to his family,” Joanne says. “He’s done really well. I don’t know where he gets it. Neither his father nor I can be in front of a group of people. We’re very proud of him.”

So far, acting is just James’ hobby. Part of his agreement with his parents is that he make sure he’s a well-rounded person.

“In school, James does sports like basketball and golf,” Joanne says. “He serves on the altar for church. It’s a mind-body-soul kind of thing. We feel it’s important that all parts of you are well-rounded.”

James says theater isn’t all that cool in middle school, but in high school, especially if he gets his wish and ends up, like his twin older sisters, at theater-friendly San Mateo High School, the cool factor may improve.

“I feel like in high school, theater will be just something I like to do and no one will judge me for it,” James says.

From there, James has an interesting plan.

“I know it’s really hard to get to Broadway,” he says. “So I’ll get a good college education and then a really steady job — I like construction and architecture; I love to build stuff — then I’ll retire early and do shows at least twice a year.”

James’ practical attitude toward show business was shaped, in part, by his experience doing The King and I at AMTSJ.

Says James’ mom: “Doing that show, I think it dawned on him what it meant to perform professionally. There were a lot of New York actors there who had left their families behind, and … it can be kind of hard.”

James says the hardest part of that show was balancing rehearsal, performance, school work and the commute from Foster City to San Jose.

“I barely made it through,” James says. “But when I’d get to the theater, it was so much fun, and the sets were so intricate and everything that I forgot about everything else and had a wonderful experience.”

Broadway by the Bay’s Beauty and the Beast continues through July 29 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; plus 2 p.m. July 21 and 28. Tickets are $17 to $42. Call (650) 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.

More with Thomas Schumacher

Earlier this week I wrote a feature story about Disney Theatrical Productions president (and San Mateo native) Thomas Schumacher. You can read the story here.

For the blog, I wanted to take you behind the scenes a little bit because this was a hugely enjoyable story to work on.

First of all, I got to see the two Disney Broadway shows I hadn’t yet seen, Tarzan and Mary Poppins. After Tarzan, which features some extraordinary choreography (involving ropes and bungee-like ropes) and design, I got a backstage tour conducted by the charming Jorge Vargas, a friend of Schumacher’s for 25 years, since they met when Schumacher was working for the Los Angeles Ballet and Vargas was a dancer.

Vargas allowed peeks into the wig and costume rooms, and then let us chat with 23-year-old Josh Strickland, a former “American Idol” contestant who is now playing the chest-beating, vine-swinging Tarzan.

In his Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt, shorts and Yankees baseball cap, Strickland sang Schumacher’s praises: “Tom is not afraid to give new talent a chance. Lucky for me.”

Meeting Schumacher a few days later, he was in the midst of preparing for a party for the American League of Theaters and Producers, who were in town being feted by pretty much every producer on Broadway.

Schumacher energized the rehearsal for the evening’s entertainment, which was a tribute to George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the young(ish) British songwriters who augmented and modified the original Sherman Brothers score for Mary Poppins. The songwriters sang tunes from their shows and were joined by Strickland and Ashley Brown (the title role in Mary Poppins) and Rebecca Luker (Mrs. Banks in Poppins). As an added treat, Stiles and Drewe were joined by “surprise guest” Richard Sherman.

After rehearsal, Schumacher and I retreated to a cozy dinner spot on Restaurant Row (46th Street between Eighth and Ninth streets), and Schumacher said that even after all his years in show business, he has never quite lost what he called the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aspect of this job.”

“You get to do this thing that you dream of and want to live for,” he said.

As if to prove his statement, our dinner was briefly interrupted by British playwright David Hare, who came over to say hello to Schumacher, who praised Hare’s work as director of Vanessa Redgrave in the one-woman show The Year of Magical Thinking.

Hare was in New York reluctantly because, as he put it, “It’s the most beautiful English spring I can recall. Very difficult to leave.”

After talking about how much he loves being a hands-on producer, Schumacher said: “This will sound stupid to someone who’s at all jaded, but there’s a warm embrace to an empty theater when you’re all sitting in the theater seats, feet up, trying to solve a problem. You’re with the band, the dressers, the crew, and you’re all trying to solve this thing. It’s the same feeling, I learned much later, you have if you’re on a sports team. It’s the rehearsal, the practice. The event is doing it in front of people. I love that coming together thing. A lot. I feel lucky to be doing it.”

All praise Bob Crowley

In my final discussion of the shows I saw in New York last week, I’d like to simply honor the extraordinary work of Bob Crowley, who until recently, was best known as the go-to guy for mind-blowing production design.

I had three Crowley experiences: Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Part Two: Shipwrecked, Disney’s Mary Poppins and Disney’s Tarzan, which Crowley also directed.

In each of these shows, even the talky Stoppard play (the middle part of a trilogy at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre), Crowley’s work is what makes the biggest impression.

Walking out of the theater after Shipwreck (when I ran into former San Francisco playwright Adam Bock – New York is such a small town), I could tell you I saw actors Jennifer Ehle, Brian F. O’Byrne, Jason Butler Harner, Ethan Hawke and Amy Irving do some interesting things, but they sort of all ran together in a mish-mash of Russians expounding on philosophical, romantic and political themes. But I won’t soon forget the images by Crowley (working here with Scott Pask): a stunning, forced-perspective view down the Champs d’Elysees; a demolished post-riot white marble statue; a gaudy chandelier and a man sitting deep in thought in the middle of a raging sea.

For Mary Poppins (at the New Amsterdam Theatre), a stage adaptation of one of my favorite movies of all time, Crowley rendered the Banks household as a giant dollhouse with the front cut away so we can see into bedrooms, offices, the basement kitchen and the attic nursery. He also throws in a gorgeous watercolor park (for the “Jolly Holiday” number), giant demonic toys (for the new song “Temper, Temper”), an enormous umbrella full of stars (another new song, “Anything Can Happen”) and, of course, the rooftops of London – coo, what a sight.

Mary Poppins does some impressive flying (and Bert the chimney sweep creates the show’s only real magic when he tap dances all the way around the proscenium), but for some intense flying, check out Crowley’s Tarzan at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

On an inflated jungle set full of cubby holes and spongy rope serving as foliage, Crowley creates a show unhampered by gravity. With the help of aerial expert Pichon Baldinu and choreographer Meryl Tankard, actors playing gorillas and Josh Strickland, playing Tarzan, don’t spend much time on the ground.

I didn’t love any of the above shows, but Crowley’s work (he also designed the costumes for Poppins and Tarzan) dazzles. If you’re going to have epic shows in which the show itself is the star of the show, you can’t do any better than Bob Crowley.

Hi sKool musiKal

Went home to Reno to visit the family homestead and ended up getting stranded by high winds and a big storm that canceled all flights in and out of the Reno/Tahoe airport. Couldn’t get a flight back to Oakland until Thursday, so I find my Christmas vacation forcefully extended.

What’s a guy to do when the weather is bizarre (60 mph winds, rain, snow, an out-of-control brush fire)? Why, watch High School Musical, of course. I know I’m the last person in the known universe to see this thing — the most popular thing ever committed on film, ever, EVER — so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. It is a musical, after all, and musicals, well, they’re not my life, but pretty darn close.

And I must say, I was completely charmed by the show. I don’t think I’ll ever be a huge fan of the songs, but it all works together as a package. I actually cared about Troy and Gabriella and their attempt to be multi-faceted teenagers.

If I were a tween (and I actually am a tween at heart), I’d have flipped for this 21st-century Grease rip-off — actually it rips off Grease and my favorite bad movie of all time, Grease 2 because in that one there’s a big school myew-zi-kall, as the HSM drama teacher calls it.

My favorite line was uttered by Sharpay: “We’re dealing with people who don’t know the difference between a Tony Award and Tony Hawk.” That’s why I love drama kids: they know what a Tony Award is and they know who Tony Hawk is.

Blame it on Broadway

This was the year that Elton John and Anne Rice’s musical Lestat bit the big one and High Fidelity was a sound no one wanted to hear.

Those of us who saw Lestat in its pre-Brodway run at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre knew the show had a stake through its heart from the get go. And as for High Fidelity (right), the sample songs on the show’s Web site were so boring it was hard to muster enthusiasm enough to dislike them. Another show with a boringly bland pop score, The Wedding Singer, made a respectable go of it but never reached hit status.

Bay Area folks should not be holding their breaths for a tour of Twyla Tharp’s take on Bob Dylan songs, The Times They Are A Changing. Our Theatre Dogs spies spotted a dog, and they were right. The circus-themed show is history.

Disney launched two new Broadway shows, and though Tarzan is still swinging, it failed to generate much in the way of buzz or critical accolades. Mary Poppins, on the other hand, generated big buzz and a full spectrum of reviews. To me, the most interesting Disney show didn’t open on Broadway. Finding Nemo: The Musical, began performances in Walt Disney World. This marks the first time Disney has taken a non-musical movie and turned it into a stage musical. This is a mini-theme park musical, but if all goes well (so far, buzz is good), we can expect to see Nemo, Marlin, Dory and friends swimming along Broadway.

Bay Area audiences can’t be surprised that A Chorus Line is proving to be a solid hit on Broadway. We saw the out-of-town preview, so we got a taste of what the new cast had to offer in this lively carbon copy version of the 1975 hit. With any luck, our next big pre-Broadway show, Legally Blonde, will be equally as exciting. We were also the first to see Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, and though the show that ended up on Broadway was pretty different than what we saw, it should be no surprise that the always charming Short found his audience. Though the show is closing in early January, it had a respectable run.

When I head to New York, the shows I most want to see are the musicals Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening and Tom Stoppard’s play cycle The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. Can’t imagine any of those will head for the Bay Area in 2007, but we can dream, can’t we? Really wish I could have seen Meryl Streep in Mother Courage in Central Park.

So what Broadway hits might actually be making their way toward the Bay Area? There’s no confirmation of anything, but we might expect the musical The Color Purple to wend our way.

Looking ahead, there are a couple shows blinking brightly off in the distance. One is a legitimate source of excitement. Angela Lansbury returns to Broadway in Terrence McNally’s Deuce alongside Marian Seldes. The other is a warning sign pointing toward the May Broadway debut of Xanadu: The Musical, which features songs from the flop 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie of the same name. Rumors have Jane Krakowski, Cheyenne Jackson and Ben Vereen reprising roles they performed in workshops of the new musical.

Christmas in the kingdom

If you’re a regular Theater Dogs reader, you may already know that I’m obssessed with Disneyland and consider it to be a masterful work of theater — sets, costumes, lights, drama (and, OK, robots).

Spent last weekend in the happiest place on Earth, and here are some observations:

– America needs to lose a little weight. I’m afraid that people are counting on those motorized scooters, those “little buddies” if you will, to maintain their lifestyles even when they’re too big to walk anymore.

The Christmas Candelight Procession, which occurs one weekend each Decmeber, is a tremendous event. A 50-piece orchestra and a 500-member choir (I’m estimating the numbers here, but I’m close) singing Christmas songs and Hector Elizondo (the guest narrator changes each year) reciting the Christmas story is lovely in both sight and sound. The event takes place behind the Main Street train station, in proximity to the giant Christmas tree, so the mood is appropriately ye olde time Christmas. But the best part involves the eight trumpeters on the roof of the train station. Spectacular.

– Disneyland’s parades have gotten so fancy they’re like Broadway shows on wheels (and on foot). The Holiday Parade is still cute, but this year’s best performances go to the woman playing Cinderella’s stepmother and the guy with braces playing Sleeping Beauty’s prince. It’s hard to charm from the confines of a cheesy holiday parade, but these two performers managed it.

– In Disney’s California Adventure, the new “High School Musical Pep Rally” is a hoot as 25-year-old performers play high school basketball players and drama geeks. This is essentially a mini-parade that does a full performance at the beginning and at the end of the short route. As you might expect, kids and pre-teens loved it, knew all the words to the songs and danced along with the choreography. Cute. Disney’s got a gold mine here.

– Speaking of gold mines, Disneyland has been overrun by pirates — everything is pirates. There’s a great actor playing Capt. Jack Sparrow running around New Orleans Square like he’s tripping on some psychedelic drug, but the tourists just eat it up. Pirate T-shirts, hats, Mickey Mouse ears and biker regalia have infiltrated every gift shop. It’s all too much pirates. Argh. Can Disney keep up the momentum before the third (and please, Walt, final) movie drops next summer? Probably not.

– The three new Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow Audioanimatronic figures in the ride Pirates of the Caribbean are very nice. The first two bear an uncanny resemblance to the actor and move so realistically it’s eerie. The final Capt. Jack on the way up the waterfall where he’s sitting on looted treasure and singing his own cocky version of “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me” looks like it’s been botoxed.

– The holiday version of “it’s a small world” is so unbelievably charming you can’t even believe it. It’s like jumping into a stack of Christmas cards and splashing around in lights, sparkles and good cheer. The holiday overlay packs so much charm it makes the regular “small world” seem like not much.

– On Splash Mountain, having heavier people in the front of your log means you’re going to get extra wet — mainly from water sloshing over the sides and into your shoes.

– The “new and improved” Space Mountain is, sorry to say, not that great. The new score is not nearly as good as Dick Dale’s surf guitar soundtrack. DCA’s California Screamin’ roller coaster is now the Disneyland Resort’s best coaster. On Jan. 3, both Space Mountain and California Screamin’ get new, temporary “rockin'” soundtracks, supposedly by name musicians. And Space Mountain is rumored to be prepping an accompanying light show for the new rockin’ track.

– If you’re enjoying the marvelous Sunday brunch at Storyteller’s Cafe in the Grand Californian hotel, and Chip (of Chip ‘n’ Dale fame) is scurrying about, watch your Mickey Mouse waffles.

– As a child, I dreamed of a) living in Pirates of the Caribbean and b) becoming a Disneyland Ambassador and wearing a plaid vest while escorting visiting dignitaries around the park. I’d still like to do that, actually.