Interview | Marisha Wallace

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One of the West End and Broadway’s most instantly recognisable voices and beloved leading ladies is heading out on her first ever UK Tour beginning at Sale’s Waterside.

Marisha Wallace – the sensational star of such smash-hit shows as Dreamgirls, Waitress, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon and very soon Hairspray – will play a series of unmissable theatre shows in March 2020.

Beginning at Sale’s Waterside (March 8), Marisha will then play Newbury Corn Exchange (March 11), Horsham Capitol (March 13), Birmingham Hippodrome (March 14), Leeds City Varieties (March 16), Lichfield Garrick (March 17), Glasgow Glee Club (March 18) and the Arts Theatre in London’s West End (March 23).

Ahead of the tour we sat down with Marisha to get the lowdown on what we can expect from the tour, why audience participation is crucial to her performance, what ‘that song’ “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” means to her and why she has her heart set on becoming the “Beyoncé of Broadway”.

Opening Night: HOW EXCITED ARE YOU FOR YOUR DEBUT UK TOUR?

Marisha: Like you cannot believe – it’s going to be incredible!  To be going out around the country and singing in these different regions is going to be wonderful –the experience of a lifetime. This is my first time as a solo headliner so I can’t wait.

ON: YOU’VE BEEN IN THE UK FOR SOME TIME NOW – WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THIS COUNTRY?

Marisha: I love the people here, they are so warm, and they are so dedicated, so supportive. Those who come to my concerts seem to really get me and understand where I am coming from. I feel like I’m something of an underdog and I think they tap into that and are willing me to succeed which is really nice. I also just love being in London, I love the history and the fact that every minute I’m here I feel like I am on holiday!

ON:  SINCE COMING TO THE UK HAVE YOU HAD MUCH CHANCE TO VISIT DIFFERENT PLACES OUTSIDE OF LONDON?

Marisha: I really love Manchester, the food is incredible, it’s almost like a different kind of London, reminds me of Boston a little bit and it’s an incredible place.

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ON: WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT ON THE TOUR?

Marisha: They can expect a lot of amazing songs, a lot of soul, a lot of big numbers from your favourite musicals that I’ve been in over the years and some of my own songs.
This is a brand-new show which I feel has something for everyone. I will be performing songs by artists and songwriters that mean the world to me. I feel sure the audience will get up on their feet and dance. It’s going to be high energy and inspirational!

ON: WHO WILL BE JOINING YOU ON STAGE?

Marisha: I have my four-piece band, who are all good friends of mine. We will also have some surprise guests, some choirs and singers from the towns and cities where we are going to be playing – so you’ll see some of your hometown friends on stage singing with me as well.

ON: YOU ARE USED TO PERFORMING WITH A CAST ON STAGE, THIS TIME IT IS JUST YOU AND YOUR BAND. DO YOU PREFER PLAYING A CHARACTER OR BEING YOURSELF ON STAGE?

Marisha: I feel most comfortable on stage as Marisha Wallace because I’m in control of everything! In musical theatre I can only play the one part and it’s already written for me. With my own shows I get to be the architect of the whole thing. It’s a very personal thing for me. I feel like a showman and it’s what I like to do – I will come out on the night like a firecracker!

ON: SO IT’S A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE FOR AUDIENCE MEMBERS WHO MAY HAVE ONLY SEEN YOU IN THE WEST END?

Marisha: If you’ve only seen me in a show before you’ve never seen me like this. When I do my concerts, this is the full version of me. You will get to hear stories about my life and hopefully be inspired. That’s kind of my biggest thing when I do a show, I want to inspire people because if I can make it to where I am, then anyone can make it.

ON: SO YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A SINGER?

Marisha: I’ve been a singer my whole life, music was such an important part of my family growing up, and early on I decided I wanted to make a career out of it. I went to go to university, but I did not get in because they said there was something wrong with my voice. It was then found I had a cyst on my vocal chords and had to have surgery.
I was told they did not know if I would be able to sing again after surgery but thankfully the surgery turned out well and I went back to the same school and they asked whether I would like to do musical theatre.

I’ve worked so hard to get here. I have been working at this for 15, 20 years just trying to make my dreams come true, going from nothing to making it.

ON: ON YOUR WEBSITE IT STATES YOU “GREW UP IN A SMALL TOWN IN NORTH CAROLINA, BUT THE SMALL TOWN NEVER HELD DOWN HER BIG CITY DREAMS”. IS IT FAIR TO SAY YOU ARE LIVING YOUR DREAM?

Marisha: I am totally living my dream. When I was on Broadway I thought ‘This is it, I’ve made it’ but when the West End came calling I realised ‘Wait there is an even bigger dream than I ever thought’. To be here getting to do all the things I love is amazing.
Everything I ever wrote down or said I wanted to do is happening to me right here in the UK. The exciting thing is you feel that your journey can lead you to the right place and I certainly feel I’m at the right place at the right time.

ON: IT CAN BE A HARD LIFE THOUGH?

Marisha: Yes, it’s hard for a musical theatre performer. By your very nature you have to be multi-faceted, be able to sing, dance, act, and must have the stamina of a crazy person because you do eight shows a week. But at the same time it’s also a wonderful life. To be able to do all these things, live all these roles alongside performers who become true friends is so special. Every time I go out I want to prove myself as a performer – I basically want to be the Beyoncé of Broadway! She does everything; she sings, dances, acts, she likes to use all her gifts and I love her for that!

ON: WHO WERE YOUR MUSICAL HEROES GROWING UP?

Marisha: Definitely all of the soul women: Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Jennifer Holiday. I do a lot of these artists in my show, and of course Whitney Houston. My God, Whitney’s voice. The way those tones affect people is just truly amazing.

ON: HOW MANY OF THEIR SONGS WILL FEATURE IN YOUR TOUR?

Marisha: Lots of them. It is brilliant to be able to take a song by Whitney, Janis Joplin, Etta James and fit them alongside songs from musical theatre and my own material. I’m blessed I can sing a number of different styles and while at one point I thought I needed to focus on just one sound or genre I then thought ‘Who cares… I’ll sing it all!’

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ON: HOW IMPORTANT TO YOUR PERFORMANCE IS THE AUDIENCE?

Marisha: They are everything to me. The audience truly help make the show. On this tour it is just me, my band and the audience – they are my other actors in this play.
Audiences want to be part of a concert and with me they get the chance to sing along, stand up, dance, scream, cheer, let out your emotions because that’s what a concert should be. You don’t just sit and watch – I want you to participate!

ON: “AND I AM TELLING YOU…” FROM DREAMGIRLS HAS BECOME SUCH AN ICONIC SONG THAT AUDIENCES NOW INSTANTLY RELATE IT TO YOU. WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SING THAT SONG?

Marisha: The song is so special to me – I’ve never sung any song like it, it’s one of a kind.
Singing that line ‘And you’re going to love me’ and then getting that love back from the audience is something that you cannot describe. It means so much. It’s an incredibly powerful and personal song for so many people who have all been on their own journey in life.

You know when things have not gone well, they’ve been beaten down, but then they come out from the ashes and say ‘you know what, I am going to make it’ and ‘you are going to love me in the end’. That is why that song is so important, it has such a powerful message, one of never giving up. I think everyone, at some stage in their life, can relate to it.

Every time I sing it I think I’m not going to go there, you know all the way there, but every time I sing it I go there because it swoops you up into this world of emotion.
Also, all the things I have been through and my journey to get here to the stage just envelopes me when I sing that song. I always cry at the end.

ON: HOW HAS THE RETURN TO WAITRESS BEEN FOR YOU?

Marisha: It’s been so exciting because I’ve never gone back to a show that I’ve left before. Everyone has been so wonderful. This company is the most beautiful company and just a really big family.

ON: AFTER YOUR TOUR YOU BEGIN THE ROLE OF MOTORMOUTH MAYBELLE IN A STAR-STUDDED REVIVAL OF HAIRSPRAY. YOU MUST BE TREMENDOUSLY EXCITED.

Marisha: I can’t believe it because I kind of thought that role would not come my way for another 10, 15 years.  Michael (Ball) and I both performed last summer at Lytham Festival in Lancashire and we did ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ We got talking, I got the audition and I got the part. I’m so excited.

ON: WHAT WOULD BE THE DREAM ROLE FOR YOU?

Marisha: My dream role has not been written yet. I want to do an original piece where I get to create the role from scratch using all my talents. It would be cool to do something brand new, that no-one has done before.

I feel in my career I have had to top all the best who’ve gone before me. Behind me I had Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Holliday, Amber Riley and I had to aim to be a better version than all those who went before. I would be so excited to be the foundation version so the next person to come to the role would be challenged to top Marisha!

ON: DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE AHEAD OF THE OPENING NIGHT OF YOUR TOUR?

Marisha: Get your tickets now, it’s going to be wonderful, emotional and a hell of a night out!

Tickets for Marisha Wallace’s show at Sale’s Waterside can be found here.

Aladdin

Aladdin 1 - Photo by David Munn

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Firm favourites on the calendar all year round thanks to their well-established half term pantos, Regal Entertainments have pulled out all the stops with their 2019 Christmas offering; a sparkling and strictly spectacular production of family favourite, Aladdin.

There are lavish sets, colourful costumes, super soakers, a spectacular scare-tastic 3D section as well as none stop gags and impressive dance numbers in this festive family friendly production.

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Strictly star Robin Windsor takes on the role of Aladdin, replacing the previously cast Kelvin Fletcher who waltzed off to the BBC when the glitterball came calling but, do not fear he hasn’t been entirely erased as the ingeniously names ‘Kelvin the carpet’ joins Robin centre stage for a boogie!

Windsor is clearly having lots of fun performing, frequently treating the audience to showcases of his sensational footwork while leading a strong company of senior and juvenile dancers in some magnificent numbers. His warmth and likability matched with his impressive skills make him a huge hit with the audience.

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Playing Wishee Washer, brother to Aladdin is the hilarious Scott Gallagher, a talented performer he has the audience roaring with laughter throughout. A natural comedian he takes full advantage of being centre stage at the end of Act 2 when several children are invited up to ‘Boss The Floss’ his interactions and observations have the audience crying with laughter while the children relish their memorable moment in the spotlight.

Timothy Lucas seals himself as an audience favourite in the role of PC Noodle and has a brilliantly inventive musical battle with evil Abanazer (Philip Shaun McGuinness) complete with dance moves that would absolutley get a 10 from Len.

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Writer Si Foster who also stars as Widow Twankey has kept true to the real spirit of Panto with lots of slapstick silliness for the kids as well as cheeky gags for the grownups. There’s ample opportunity for many a ‘ITS BEHIND YOU’ while Panto favourite ‘We’ll have to sing it again then won’t we’ makes an appearance within the Monster Mash.

Choreographer Nazene Langfield has created some spectacular numbers which really allow Robin Windsor to show off his dazzling footwork while Olivia Sloyan, Kai Jolley and Jenna Sian O’Hara all make the most of their supporting roles.

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Act 1 stutters occasionally and could benefit from a little trim however Act 2 is where this production really finds its feet and absolutely soars from opening number Dancing Fool right through to the glittering and gorgeous finale.

The final transformation scene will ensure audiences have the time of their lives as the cast mambo their way through the Dirty Dancing classic. This is a feel-good family friendly production packed with laughs and lots of them, another Christmas cracker from Regal Entertainments!

Catch Aladdin at St Helens Theatre Royal until Sunday 12th January tickets available here.

 

 

Disney on Ice – 100 Years of Magic

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From the hundreds of children dressed as their favourite Disney idol to the myriad of swirly flashy things lighting up the inside of Manchester Arena – it was definitely Disney on Ice time!

The always-popular ice spectacular is a staple of the family entertainment calendar, offering people the chance to get a glimpse of their Disney favourites without having to go to Paris or Florida. Throw in dazzling skating skills, gorgeous costumes and plenty of iconic Disney songs and you have all the elements for a magical night out.

This year’s Disney on Ice show is called 100 Years of Magic and sees a loose plot of Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy trying to decide on a movie to make – drawing inspiration from Disney‘s back catalogue of celluloid smashes.

Perhaps less Princess-centred than Disney on Ice shows I’ve seen before, 100 Years of Magic includes tributes to some absolute classics like Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin (why have one ice skating Genie when you can have 20!) The Lion King and more.

Of course there is the chance to see all the Princesses and their Princes skate as well as a fabulous extended section that gives the delighted audience Frozen in about 20 minutes – this is a real highlight with goosebumps galore as Elsa twirls and swoops across the ice to Let It Go. And it even snows!

Our other favourite bit was a simply gorgeous tribute to Mulan featuring a beautiful solo to Reflections followed by the very talented full company of skaters performing a stunning martial arts-inspired routine to I’ll Make a Man Out of You. This was followed by the entrance of an impressive Chinese Dragon onto the ice – that drew gasps from the audience.

But probably the crowd-pleasing cameo of the night was from Toy Story 4 scene-stealer Forky, whose arrival on the ice brought cheers of joy from the youngster sat around us. Indeed the whole Toy Story section was clearly a hit with the young fans of Woody, Buzz and the ‘plastic’ effect wigs on the toys were a nice witty touch too.

But the whole show was fantastic – a welcome bit of Disney magic delivered on skates. We had an absolute blast!

Further information, tickets and tour dates can be found here.

Preview | Disney on Ice

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Writer Kate Goerner

The ever-popular Disney on Ice spectacular returns to the rink at Manchester Arena next month – offering a timely opportunity to get a bit of Disney magic in your life in these unsettled times!
So why not grab those Mickey Ears and prepare to celebrate 100 Years of Magic in this all-new arena show that’s led by the Mouse-ter of Ceremonies (ahem, sorry!) Mickey Mouse with Minnie and lots of other pals and princesses alongside him.
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The family friendly production will be skating into Manchester from the 9th to 13th October and features more than 50 performers, a sing-along score of Disney musical masterpieces, exhilarating choreography and beautiful costumes and sets.
The show is packed with iconic Disney characters from much-loved films that Disney fans young and old will love seeing in the flesh – with added ice theatrics!
Audiences will travel to the heart of Africa with Disney’s The Lion King, come along for an adventure in friendship with the gang from DisneyPixar’s Toy Story, and watch as Belle breaks the Beast’s curse in the tale of Beauty & The Beast.
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And OR COURSE no Disney on Ice show would be complete without a trip to the kingdom of Arendelle from Disney’s Frozen and journey up the North Mountain with adorable snowman Olaf and hunky Kristoff, as they help royal sisters Anna and Elsa discover that true love conquers all.
Over 14 tales are featured, with some absolute classic songs like Hakuna Matata, You’ve Got A Friend in Me, Let It Go, At Last I See The Light, A Whole New World and loads more.
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Producer Kenneth Feld said: “This is a show, more than any other, which is truly for everybody. When I sit with the audience, I see those that are grandparents, like I am, enjoying a lot of the classic Disney stories, while young kids and parents really respond to modern day favourites like Frozen.”

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic is produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment.

Tickets and more information are available here.

Lea Salonga

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Theatrical royalty and original Miss Saigon Lea Salonga brought her sensational one-woman show to Manchester’s Opera House over the weekend as part of her current UK tour. Rescheduled from February due to an unfortunate skiing accident Salonga quickly proved to an excited Manchester audience that she was more than worth the wait.

Opening with the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good Salonga sets the tone for the evening, slick, sharp and effortlessly brilliant. Accompanied by a six-piece band which includes Musical Director Larry Yurman whom worked with Salonga back in her Les Misérables Broadway days the talented musicians accompany her beautifully. Each piece is perfectly paced while the incredible acoustics within the Opera House make it feel as though she is singing directly to each and every person there. The impressive lighting design adds to the visual appeal of the show while Salonga’s vocals really do speak for themselves.

Incredibly warm and charismatic her frequent exchanges with the audience between numbers further add to the charm of her incredible performance, already enraptured with her judging from the enthusiastic applause even before the first note was sung Salonga further seals the deal when she announces “Manchester, you are giving me life right now”.

The varied set list caters wonderfully for all tastes; there’s lashings of musical theatre numbers including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Company and Hamilton as well as a brilliant selection of contemporary songs ranging from Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car to perhaps rather surprisingly One Direction’s Story Of My Life which is delivered with warm emotion.

Of course no performance would be complete without Salonga treating audiences to pieces from the Disney productions she famously voiced. Her performance of Reflection from Disney’s Mulan allows for a significant introductory speech about the importance of representation and visibility and how honoured she feels to represent not just Asian women on stage but an ‘badass Asian warrior’.

From Reflection Salonga moves poignantly into Train’s Drops of Jupiter which she dedicates to all those who have been affected by cancer after revealing that the Grammy award-winning song was written by lead singer Pat Monahan after the loss of his mother.

Act 1 comes to a close with an absolute fan favourite which Salonga describes as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; a song she has sung many hundreds of times but one which walloped her emotionally the first time she sang it after the birth of her now 13 year old daughter. I’d Give My Life For You sounds as fresh and as devastating today as it did 30 years on from those first days of Miss Saigon rehearsals.

Act 2 opens with a lively delivery of Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s Company swiftly followed by a spectacular rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen which Salonga wittily describes as a song ‘you simply can’t escape from’ while inviting the eager audience to join in with the chorus to which they happily oblige.

The addition of a stripped back acoustic version of A-ha’s Take On Me is a real highlight of the show, showcasing not only Salonga’s incredible range and control but also the sheer talent of guitarist Chris Allard. Next comes a haunting rendition of Burn from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit Hamilton a work she describes as ‘absolute genius’ and a show she has seen three times.

Salonga’s first stint as a Disney Princess was voicing Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine which resulted in one of the most successful duets in cinematic history, A Whole New World. Salonga takes this opportunity to ask for a volunteer to join her on stage in delivering the iconic song. Audience member Mark Cunningham, a dedicated fan since he first saw Salonga in Miss Saigon back in 1989 when he was just 14 is the lucky person chosen and delivers an impressive rendition of the much loved piece, complementing Salonga wonderfully. The pair thrill the audience with the duet receiving one of the warmest responses of the evening; an unforgettable opportunity for Mark as well as a heart-warming moment for the watching audience.

Salonga brings the show to a close with a medley of Les Misérables numbers I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own. The first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine on Broadway Salonga leaves the audience speechless with her goose bump inducing, note perfect delivery.

Salonga thankfully sticks with the tradition of delivering an encore and reappears to thunderous applause as she bursts into a celebratory performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman followed by her final song for the night, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

Salonga thrills effortlessly from start to finish, her voice smooth as honey is as powerful as it is perfect. Thirty years of entertaining audiences have cemented her as without doubt one of the most extraordinary talents in the world today. Her warmth and talent combined with a varied and accessible set list ensures her appeal endures while she no doubt gains new fans along the way.

With limited dates left on this current tour we suggest you summon your inner badass and get booking tickets ASAP!

Further information and tour dates for Lea Salonga can be found here.

 

 

Disney on Ice | Dream Big

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Created in the late 1980s and seen in over 65 countries around the world, Disney on Ice as a brand is now a firmly established part of the Disney family. And the current tour – billed Dream Big – is indeed a  bit of a dream for fans young and old.

Produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment, Dream Big is a lavish all-twirling, all-jumping show that packs in more than enough Disney princes and princesses, songs (and special effects) to keep audiences in a Disney dreamworld.

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For those who are unfamiliar with a Disney on Ice production. Minnie and Mickey act as hosts and introduce segments devoted to various iconic movies – this time round including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Cinderella (complete with coach) and recordings of the soundtracks are played that the skaters perform and mime too.

With a stunning set backdrop and literally dazzling costumes and perfect wigs – we really do see our favourite heroes brought to life in front of our eyes. (It was particularly lovely to see them all regularly waving at audience members throughout the show). The skating was stunning – and for some of the performers (Maui and Sebastian the Crab – I’m looking at you) some in what must be quite tricky costumes.

A real highlight was the (new for this tour) Moana section – the solo skating routine performed by ‘Moana’ to How Far I’ll Go was a perfect example of music, performance and skating combining perfectly. I had goosebumps and a large lump in my throat – just stunning! It was as it had always been on ice!

Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast was a big company number, and a real crowd pleaser, as was Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.

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Another favourite was the extra-long segment donated to Frozen, that was basically a mini version of the movie. Yes we’ve all heard Let it Go a million times, but it was pretty special seeing a version on ice! With twirling! Yet more goosebumps.

My 3 year old was admittedly a little scared of Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid and the fire-breathing dragon from Sleeping Beauty (we took the opportunity to beat the loo queues and later on get an ice cream when it got a bit too scary for him), but he loved the Genie from Aladdin, Mickey and Minnie, Belle and (of course) seeing Elsa. He genuinely did not want to leave when the house lights went up.

Cynics begone – if there’s a more magical and uplifting way to spend an autumn evening, well…..I’ll get my skates on!

Preview | Disney on Ice

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There’s no disputing the magic of Disney for little (and hey, who are we kidding, and big!) kids, and the regular visits by Disney on Ice bring a real element of enchantment to Manchester.

The popular arena shows give fans the chance to see some of their favourite Disney characters performing live on ice – bringing to life much-loved tales and songs from classic animated movies from over the years.

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This time round the show is billed Dream Big – and seems likely to make plenty of dreams come true for Disney fans, not least because the show brings the first appearance on skates by Moana, the most recent inspirational heroine from the House of Mouse.

Theatre fans will no doubt be aware that the Oscar-nominated Moana had songs co-written by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, who is now clearly firmly part of the Disney family thanks to this, and his forthcoming role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Expect lots of excitement from Moana fans at seeing Disney’s latest heroine in Manchester – with Demi God Maui (brilliantly voiced by Dwayne Johnson in the movie) also promised to make an appearance.

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Also in the show – which features spectacular figure-skating, beautiful costumes and stunning sets – will be sections dedicated to classic tales including Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and more.

As well as – of course! – a suitably icy section dedicated to all things Frozen!

Opening Night also hears tales of a fire breathing dragon…….we can’t wait!

Disney on Ice presents Dream Big at the Manchester Arena from Wednesday 10th October until Sunday 14th October.

For more information visit www.disneyonice.co.uk