Disney's musical treasure

This article was published in The Business Times on 27 April 2015.

Brad Kelley has a pretty cool job. The American musician is the music director and conductor for Disney On Classic, a live orchestral show that blends familiar Disney songs with original footage from classic Disney movies such as Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Frozen, as well as dramatic lighting and stage effects. This means Kelley gets paid to spend a significant part of his adult life presenting some of his favourite Disney tunes with the help of a live orchestra — while travelling around the world. And, come July, following 12 years of sold-out performances in Japan, Kelley and his team of musicians, singers and crew will stage Disney On Classic for the first time in South-east Asia at The Star Theatre in Singapore.

"My experience with Disney On Classic has been positive on many levels,” said Kelley, who will be leading Singapore’s Metropolitan Festival Orchestra as well as several members of The Orchestra Japan, in playing beloved tunes from the famed Walt Disney Studios songbook. “First, it has been an eye-opening experience to spend time in Asia, a part of the world I did not think I would ever visit. I have fallen in love with the culture and the people! The ‘human aspect’ has been wonderful as well. I have made many friends as a result of work and travel.

"Musically, it utilises all the skills that I have developed over 40 years as a writer and performer. My wife and children have been able to travel with me and that has made it even more rewarding.”

Since 1985, Kelley has been a leading composer and music producer for theme-park shows and attractions, but his credentials extend beyond those areas. Additional composing credits include award-winning music for major film and television studios such as Universal Studios, ESPN and Fox Television, as well as hundreds of commercials and television news, movie and promotional themes for network and independent TV stations across the United States and Canada. He is also the author of numerous published collections for chorus, brass and winds, and has served as a clinician for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Grammy Sessions programme.

For Kelley, who has been with Disney On Classic since its inception in 2002, one of the greatest challenges he faces is in keeping the show fresh and exciting for audiences and fans, many of whom come multiple times a year. “Each year, the programme grows in sophistication and complexity. We want to keep growing and innovating, and it is always a challenge to balance that against the “traditional” aspects of the show,” he said.

As one can imagine, the process of selecting songs to perform at the show also presents a bit of a headache, even though Kelley concedes that he has a few personal favourites.

"I have a soft spot in my heart for A Whole New World and the entire score from Aladdin,” he said. “Some Day My Prince Will Come is another favourite. It has an introductory section that you never hear that really sets up the song. Poor, Unfortunate Souls has genius lyrics by Howard Ashman ... I could go on. The Disney songbook is a treasure trove.”

Luckily, if Kelley ever feels overwhelmed by his work, he can always count on his favourite Disney characters to inspire him. “Tigger is my alter ego,” he quipped. “He seems perfectly content with who he is and is unconcerned with whatever drama may be occurring around him. He lets things roll off his back, you might say.”

Disney On Classic — A Magical Night will run from July 16 to 17 at The Star Theatre, The Star Performing Arts Centre. Tickets from S$35 to S$165 at SISTIC.

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