I have a fond memory of my grandpa driving my brother, my sister, and me to go to Milwaukee to go see Sesame Street Live. I remember it being a big day that’s made a lasting impression, and not just, I think, because he bought us tons of candy and those cool fiberoptic wavy thingies that you spend a bunch of money on and they die the next day. I haven’t been to a live kids’ show like that as an adult, but always assumed I’d take the kids if they showed an interest. Tonight I did something totally nutty — I went to see Phineas and Ferb Live without Olive. It was a Women in Children’s Media event, so I was sitting among kids’ industry colleagues and not kids. Weird.
The evening began with a Q&A with Alana Feld of Feld Entertainment, the company that brings us Disney Live and Disney on Ice. The new show is officially called Phineas and Ferb: The Best Live Tour Ever! and judging by the kids surrounding us in the theater, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Alana talked about their process of putting together a live show like this. Of course, they worked very closely with Disney. (How could they not?) They hired a director and writer specifically for this show, but still got the input of show creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. It can’t be a coincidence that the characters they voice, Doofenschmirtz and Major Monogram, got the best laughs. They also had to cast dancers who could wear giant heads (or eyeballs), gesture to prerecorded voiceover, and generally carry the physical demeanor of the character. You can imagine what a casting challenge that would be.
Their process for creating the show seemed sound, but the proof is in the pudding, right? Alana said that they like fast-paced shows because they work well for kids, and that music was the driving force of the story. You could see that to be true. They had to weave an original story around the Phineas and Ferb greatest hits. No small task. The trouble is that I told my fellow WICM members that Phineas and Ferb is one of the best written shows on television, and by the nature of what a live show has to do, it can’t live up to that. Mostly this is fine, because the show is high-energy and entertaining. But they broke the show a bit by bringing it to the stage. It largely comes down to one of my favorite characters, Candace. Except for the rare episode, she spends all of her time trying to bust her brothers. In the live show, she’s quickly talked into putting on a show with her brothers on the last day of summer. Bummer. I missed her need to bust. I also wanted to see things big, big, big. There were some big golf balls floated out to the audience, and a satisfying moment with a monster truck, but other than that, things felt kind of normal in relation to their usual shenanigans.
Now, do you think the theater full of kids cared about these quibbles? No. No, they didn’t. They screamed and clapped and danced and shouted wildly whenever Phineas asked a question fo the audience. There were also some great moments that alone make the show worth going to:
- Perry the Platypus makes a big entrance and it’s hilarious watching the kids go out of their little minds when this happens.
- Doofenschmirtz sings a Broadway medley that includes “I Feel Pretty.”
- Though I should have seen it coming from ten miles away, the setup for “Squirrels in my Pants” took me by surprise.
- The characters break the fourth wall in funny, meta ways.
- Have I mentioned about Perry and Doofenschmirtz? Their scenes are really the best in the show.
Phineas and Ferb is playing at the Garden until Tuesday, and it has tour dates nationwide. Is it worth the money? I happily paid 68 bucks when I got home to buy some cheap seats for Olive and her grandma to go, but I wouldn’t spend much more than that. Sure, the kids by the stage looked like they were having the most fun, but not $150/seat fun. Phineas and Ferb fans will have a ball, even from afar.