By John Benson
If you’re going to create a show for the pre-kindergarten age group, having pirates and princesses in the title is a no-brainer.
For the folks at the Disney Channel, the notion of creating such a tour was simple considering two of its biggest hit shows are “Sofia the First” and “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”
Now the popular programs are the centerpiece of the “Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure,” which comes to Youngstown’s Covelli Centre on Saturday for two shows (1 p.m. and 4 p.m.).
Helming the production is veteran director and choreographer Fred Tallaksen, who helped stage shows such as “Disney Live! Mickey’s Music Festival” and “Disney’s Phineas and Ferb: The Best LIVE Tour Ever!”
“I’m always trying to take it to the next level with more elements and special effects,” said Tallaksen calling from New York City. “By doing the other two shows, I thought I was pushing the envelope but once you get going, you realize you can fit more and pack more stuff into the time. You can get more set pieces and more special effects, so I was able to do a lot more with this one because I sort of know the parameters I’m working in.”
Many live children’s productions attract professionals from Broadway, but Tallaksen is different. Sure, he has Broadway credits, but over the past two decades his creativity and vision have impacted film, television, music videos and commercials.
He’s worked with Madonna, LaToya Jackson, Kelly Osborne, James Blunt and Enrique Iglesias. Tallaksen also has choreographed TV shows including “Modern Family,” “Outsourced,” and “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
“I have done a little bit of everything, and I feel like I can bring that whole spectrum of experience into the show,” Tallaksen said. “So I try to make every number completely different and throw in some really surprising special effects staged with video, with the lights and all kinds of different elements. I’m like the everything-except-the-kitchen-sink type of person. That’s why I’m good for these shows.”
As for the “Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure,” Mickey and Minnie open the show before Sofia and her family give the audience a royal celebration. For the second act, it’s swashbuckling fun with Jake and his friends Izzy and Cubby – with a little help from Peter Pan – battling Captain Hook to unlock treasure hidden inside a mysterious volcano.
The obligatory line regarding children’s shows is the production isn’t just for the kids but parents too. However, when Tallaksen, who has a golden resume to his credit, stresses the show is a high-tech affair for the whole family, for some reason this carries more weight.
“This is not your average wave your hands in the air, stand around and clap little kids show,” Tallaksen said. “This is like full-on first-rate entertainment production values. It’s very immersive, really fun, and it goes by so fast because it’s so entertaining.”