I’ve been excited for Rogers: The Musical ever since Disneyland announced it’d be coming to Disney California Adventure starting this summer. Not because I’m a huge Marvel fan, but because I love “Weird Disney.” Way too many things the company does are risk-averse, perfectly-polished, and crafted by committee.
The end result is that they usually have a baseline minimum quality level, but are also predictable and feel manufactured. Such has become the case with the modern montage musicals that Disney regularly produces. No offense to Mickey and the Magical Book or that style of show, but there’s only so good or bad it can be. It’s mostly just a sense of sameness, with songs slotted in and out as the popularity of new animated movies dictates.
Doing something different and a bit out there does yield some flops, such as KiteTails (RIP). It also results in things that are funny and memorable and break the mold of what Disney normally does, like Merry Menagerie or Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Attractions and entertainment like this punch above their weight, being more memorable in large part because they’re so different. Now we can add Rogers: The Musical to that list.
The risk with the Weird Disney approach is that it eschews established rules and familiar formulas of giving guests what they want, and instead tries to deliver something they never knew they needed.
Sadly, the former approach has become the default for this “creative” company, and it’s hard to fault them when every paint-by-numbers live action remake or superfluous sequel grosses hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, fresh ideas often fail to connect and bomb at the box office.
In the case of Rogers: The Musical, there’s the added risk of taking a nugget of meta humor found in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, and expanding it into something bigger. “Save the City” from that show occupied this awkward intersection of satire and campy quality. It’s like “Start a Fire” from La La Land–the song itself exists as exposition and commentary, but is also supposed to be sorta kinda good, actually.
I went into Rogers: The Musical expecting more or less that: a lot of cheesy and campy fun. My fear was that it’d be too much of a good thing, or would fail to land when removed from the wink-and-nod context of Hawkeye. To my surprise and delight, that largely was not what Rogers: The Musical delivered. And does it ever deliver!
Of course, “Save the City” is the centerpiece of Rogers: The Musical. Before that is another satirical number, “Star Spangled Man” by Alan Menken and David Zippel from Captain America: The First Avenger. Unlike “Save the City,” no further context is needed for that to work, as the absurdity is self-contained in the song itself.
In addition to this, there are five new original songs written for the Disneyland Resort version of Rogers: The Musical. These additions perform the impressive task of transforming the production from something silly and satirical to a whirlwind journey that explores themes of heroism, self-discovery, perseverance, patriotism, and teamwork. Even more notable, Rogers: The Musical is fundamentally a love story and a rom-com musical, and not a parody.
Rogers: The Musical essentially retells the story of Steve’s journey towards becoming Captain America (first third) and serving as an Avenger (second third)–no spoilers for the final third.
The first third also introduces Agent Peggy Carter, the love of Rogers’ life, and who is (obviously) the the other half in this being a love story. (Sorry for those hoping it’d secretly be a bromance between Hulk and Ant-man; both have tiny roles.)
Rogers: The Musical is also unabashedly patriotic, and earnest in that rather than presenting it with any subtext or cynicism. (Minus a brief bit of self-deprecating absurdity about comic book characters being used to sell war bonds.)
Normally, a production like this would silence criticism that the company has abandoned Walt Disney’s core beliefs, but I suspect Rogers: The Musical will be ignored as inconvenient to that narrative. (Regardless, it’s a great show to see during the Independence Day holiday weekend at Disneyland!)
While the Avengers portion of the story is how Rogers: The Musical has been sold via “Save the City,” the opening act is so much better. The big band jazz, visual style, and Starkettes give this a punch and a distinctly patriotic sensibility. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first Captain America movie, but I felt like Rogers’ struggles were better conveyed in a few minutes here than in the movie itself.
These numbers won’t be the highlight for many on their first viewing, but I suspect will become more beloved with repeat viewings. (They’re also essential in giving more emotional weight to the final third.)
Did we mention that Nick Fury sings? Because Nick Fury sings. That may sound incredible or cringey depending upon your perspective, reverence for the source material, and whether you enjoy things that are fun.
I am fully on board with it, and only wish that the character–who is essentially this show’s equivalent to Genie from Aladdin: The Musical–were given more stage time. But perhaps it’s better to leave the audience wanting more than going overboard with that particular bit.
In any case, Nick Fury delivers the MCU’s version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and provides some punchy dialogue and comedic relief. “Save the City” does likewise, and also helps to recap the events of the three-dozen or so movies (approximately) between Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers: Endgame.
This ends up being the Weird Disney/Marvel goodness I was after, and it fully delivered on its absurd, fun, and self-referential promise. But it was not the highlight of Rogers: The Musical for me.
Once that portion of the performance wraps up, the pace slows down and it becomes a quintessential Disney love story and heartfelt musical. Rogers: The Musical comes full circle, returning to the romance of Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.
Ironically, watching this felt similar to the closing act of Avengers: Endgame–I’d been lured in with the promise of big explosions and epic adventure, only to be hit with an emotional gut-punch. Dangit, they got me again!
Ultimately, it’s great to finally see a production back in the Hyperion Theater, and even better that it’s one as good as Rogers: The Musical. This hit all of the right notes for us. The songs are catchy and memorable, it’s humorous and goofy while also being sincere and sentimental, and there’s no shortage of spectacle.
The way Rogers: The Musical weaves from crazy and campy to earnest and heartfelt is masterful. The show never feels too jarring or poorly-paced. It doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Aladdin: The Musical for us, but we love it.
As with anything that has a weird quality and takes creative risks, there’s the possibility that Rogers: The Musical will elicit uneven responses and reviews, or that various scenes won’t “work” for others. With that said, it’s definitely worth seeing even if you aren’t a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Background knowledge is helpful for appreciating a few inside jokes and easter eggs, but the show is relatively self-contained–and a good love story is universal. I suspect that Rogers: The Musical is going to defy a lot of guest expectations on the upside (I anticipate hearing the words “pleasant surprise” from non-MCU fans) and end up being a smash success.
Confirmation of the show’s success and vindication of the risk taken on Rogers: The Musical paying off is probably what’ll be necessary before Disneyland Resort commits to making this a permanent production. As mentioned previously, I firmly believe they will. (Perhaps not until 2024, though, as performer contracts for the fall and holidays might be tricky.)
Rogers: The Musical is too good to only be a 2-month special engagement, and I’m personally skeptical it was ever intended to be limited-run. I just hope this isn’t a test before moving it elsewhere, as it’s exactly what both DCA and Avengers Campus need. Well, not exactly what that Marvel land needs–more singing Nick Fury and this becomes a perfect production.
What do you think about Rogers: The Musical at Disney California Adventure? Do you expect this to actually be a limited time production, or is that a way to create an artificial sense of urgency/scarcity before the musical’s run is inevitability extended “by popular demand” from guests? Planning on purchasing premium viewing or trying your luck with the virtual queue? Think this will be a good addition to Avengers Campus, or does the production sound too cheesy to you? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!