Photo credit: Jennifer Johnson
Disney is kicking off the holiday season with a special hosted by former Dancing With the Stars judge Julianne Hough and Season 25 contestant, Nick Lachey. The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration will feature enchanting Disney moments captured through song and dance.
Creative producers Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo were on hand again this year to put together the elaborate opening number. Dance Network spoke with the two-time Emmy-Award-winning duo about the process of working with Disney and creating a memorable piece for the TV special.
Dance Network: When you work for a big brand like Disney, how do you conceptualize an epic opening number?
Napoleon D’umo: With Disney, they are very open to doing whatever we want — within budget restrictions, of course. They are willing to go as far as we want.
Tabitha D’umo: I think that our biggest challenge in doing a number like that is that we have to work around the fact that the park is open. We need to conceptualize things that can happen logistically and not interrupt the experience of the people that are coming to the park.
DN: How do you work around the park visitors?
Tabitha: People that come there don’t mind seeing the behind the scenes because they know you are filming a TV show. It’s equally as exciting.
Logistically though, we can’t interrupt the flow of traffic or the availability for guests to get from one location to the other. Disney already has so many parades and activities that are already happening in the park. So originally in our creative session, we were wanting to do a little bit more of a parade down Main Street.
Napoleon: The logistics of a live crowd were challenging because if this was an awards show, we could just move people around. We wanted the sleigh to come down Main Street to connect with the castle stage, but because there are people paying money to see the park, we had to make a Plan B.
Tabitha: We came up with a great plan at the train station instead, which gave us more flexibility and it supported the narrative better, too. It allowed Nick to make his way to the park to start the show and host with Julianne.
Photo credit: ABC
Tabitha: We did 50/50 on casting because the show is taped in Florida. It’s not financially beneficial to fly everyone from Los Angeles to Florida. However, we are able to get a core group of dancers who work well together because the casting part is important to Julianne. I weigh in with her on that decision and ask her, “What ensemble do you want around you to support choreographic moments?”
We direct Julianne and Derek’s Move Live Tour, so we pulled people she’s familiar with. We even cast people from the year before that she remembered, and they were part of the group we prepped in LA to build the moments around Julianne.
We also coordinate with the Disney staff who let us know what characters they have available to us and what ideas we can get from the park to help support moments. With this being our second year doing this, we are also a little more familiar with what we have available between the candy cane girls and the gingerbread men. This year for the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies,” I knew I wanted ballerinas on pointe to come in, so Disney helped us facilitate dancers locally so we didn’t have to fly anyone in.
DN: Do you design the show for TV, the audience watching in the park or both?
Tabitha: You make it for TV because, at the end of the day, it is a TV special. We worked closely with the director to script out what shots will feel the best. At the same time, the audience right there in front of the castle gets to see us camera block and they see us on the headsets. They get the experience of what a TV show is all about — in essence, they are seeing two shows — a behind-the-scenes experience and what the viewers at home are going to end up seeing.
Their perspective is different, too, since they’re seeing a wide shot of everything where the TV camera might be on a close-up of Julianne as she’s singing a line. They get to see the 18 dancers behind her running around and the audience at home doesn’t get to see that happening. They even see Mickey waiting in the wings getting ready to run out on stage.
DN: What’s one of the benefits of working with Disney magic?
Tabitha: Every time we think of a concept, we ask ourselves, what’s the magic of the holidays? What’s the magic of being at Disney? The ability to have a really great fireworks demonstration is something we aren’t usually able to do.
Napoleon: With Disney, you really get to go overboard. It’s really cool because doing pyrotechnics at an awards show is a really big ordeal. At Disney they say, “Hey, do you want more fireworks?”
Tabitha: We answer, “Sure!” [She laughs.]
Photo credit: ABC
DN: What is the most rewarding part of creating a piece for Disney?
Napoleon: Always the most rewarding part is seeing what we’ve shot and seeing it all edited together. Also, now that we have a five-year-old kid [London], I just geek out seeing Mickey and Minnie and taking pictures. My son thinks I’m a hero for it.
DN: What’s on the agenda for 2018 for you besides Season 2 of ‘World of Dance’?
Tabitha: I’m excited because I am in development for a feature film — a romantic comedy —, which I’ve created with Napoleon. I’ve had this idea for a while and we’ve just teamed up with a writer and a company that believes in the idea. It loosely has a dance narrative to it, but the story can stand on its own without dance… think Magic Mike meets Bridesmaids for moms.
Napoleon: We’ve had several films in development for quite a while now and nobody was willing to take a risk on the dance film genre. They are all coming back now — something that I thought was shelved is now a possibility.
‘The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration’ airs Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. EST on The ABC Television Network.
Don’t miss Dance Network and Popcorn Talk’s episode of ‘To The Pointe With Kristyn Burtt’ featuring Joy Womack: