Wishes, Wonders and Dreams

UCLA TFT Professor Myung Hee Cho designs a spectacular show for the grand opening of Shanghai Disney

When Walt Disney Company executives needed an expert to create a visual spectacle in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle at the new Shanghai Disney Resort, opening Thursday, June 16, they knew just who to call: Designer and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Professor Myung Hee Cho, who had previously designed the sets for Hong Kong Disneyland's long-running "Golden Mickeys" show.

"It was one of the most successful shows in Disney park history," Cho says of the "Golden Mickeys," a musical revue that showcased the characters from numerous Disney films. "When they closed it down after 10 years, it wasn't because it wasn't popular; it was just time for a new attraction."

The $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney is the second largest Disney theme park to date; only Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is bigger. (Other locations can be found in Anaheim, Calif., Tokyo and Paris.) Originally scheduled to launch in 2015, the grand opening was pushed back a year when Disney and its Chinese partner, The Shanghai Shendi Group, added more park attractions to the tune of an additional $800 million.

Cho's Shanghai Disney project had her designing the sets and costumes for "Golden Fairytale Fanfare," a 17-minute musical showcase that is at the center of the park's opening celebration, featuring more than 50 performers and seven musical numbers in each of six daily shows. (Approximately 2,500-5,000 audience members are anticipated at every performance.) It takes place in front of the largest, most ornate and interactive Disney castle ever built — there's a restaurant and activities inside — and is the only one that celebrates all the Disney princesses with mosaics on its walls. Cho was tasked with reimagining the iconic appearances of six Disney princesses: Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Merida (Brave), Jasmine (Aladdin), Snow White and the royal sisters from Frozen, Elsa and Anna, while still maintaining their familiar silhouettes. Perennial favorites Cinderella and Mulan weren't included because they have their own shows in the park.

"I researched each of the princesses and then contemporized their looks so that they're relevant and current to young audiences," Cho says regarding her process. She kept each character's familiar colors but used "high-tech materials" such as 3D prints, iridescent PVC, translucent mylar, gold mesh and silk lamé to help achieve the fashion-forward yet iconic and stunning costume designs. Renowned Chinese director Shi-Zheng Chen insisted that the costumes be stylish, vibrant, reflective and sculptural for the outdoor show.
"My objective was not only reimagine the look of classic Disney princesses such as Snow White and Jasmine but to have them be visible from a long distance, cutting through the thick Shanghai smog," recalls Cho. "We did numerous visual smog tests for all the fabrics to see if we could see the costumes from 40 feet away."

Using the same design principles, Cho also designed several puppets for the show, built by the Michael Curry Studio in Portland, Ore., including a stylized metallic Angus, the horse from Brave, and majestic elephant heads, reminiscent of those found in Aladdin. Disney spared no expense in its support of Cho's set, costume and puppet designs.

Additionally, Cho designed the multiple lift system hidden beneath the castle stage, which allows performers to emerge from the stage in dramatic fashion.

"It was challenging because I had to make sure that what I designed wasn't just for this show but could be used for other shows in the future," she says.

In undertaking the project, which began in September 2013, many UCLA TFT graduate scenic and costume designers had the opportunity to assist Cho. Student scenic designers included Yuki Izumihara, Patrick Scalise and Eunnym Cho, who assisted in concept rendering, model building and drafting. Costume design students Hannah Green, Lexi Newman, Michelle Moon and Rebecca Guzzi worked on costume rendering, and last year, student Ji Young Lee had a six-month internship with Walt Disney Imagineering, Creative Entertainment. During the internship, she revised the drafting, created art works and tracked complicated scenic design packages with Cho. In the mounting phase of the project, alum Yee Eun Nam was on site in Shanghai for six weeks during the tech and preview process, working alongside director Shi-Zheng Chen and other designers, who reported back to Cho in Los Angeles as final touches were completed in anticipation of Thursday's opening.

"She was the right person for the job," Cho says of Nam. "She's a huge Disney fan and was just so happy to be there working on the project."

Cho, who has been teaching at UCLA TFT since 2009, has moved on from the Disney project, and now she's designing the sets and costumes for summer production of Gioachino Rossini's opera, The Thieving Magpie, directed by Peter Kazaras at the internationally renowned Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

Posted: June 13, 2016