It was purely on a whim that Kausha Campbell decided to audition with some friends for the chance to perform in an upcoming “Disney Live” production after she noticed a poster on one of the dance bulletin boards at her Utah university.
Little did Campbell know that within weeks she would be traveling the country, performing the starring role of Sophia the First, Disney’s latest twist on the modern-day princess.
“When I got the part, I was like, ‘Who is Sophia?’” Campbell recalls. “Then they told me it was one of the top shows for both boys and girls.”
Campbell is more than familiar with the hit Disney Junior television show “Sophia the First” now. After almost a year on the road — the “Disney Junior Live on Tour! Pirate and Princess Adventure” show debuted last July — it is safe to say that Campbell has become an expert on the story of a princess-by-accident who is trying to learn the ropes of royal life in Enchancia.
“I’m 21, so all dance performances I’ve been doing have been for older audiences,” Campbell says. “So, this was a big challenge for me. I had to tune into my childhood. Even just watching episodes, learning the mannerisms. I’ve taken things that I see from students I used to teach little girls that age. It’s fun. I get to act like a kid on stage. She’s a princess in training, she’s kind of clumsy.”
Princess Sophia and friends, along with real-life versions of Disney Junior’s other animated hit, “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” will make their way to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall this weekend when “Disney Junior Live on Tour!” arrives for just two shows 4 and 7 p.m. Friday, May 9.
Each show will include a special pre-show 10 minutes before start time featuring another Disney Junior hit character, Doc McStuffins, leading the crowd in a special dance and her well-known “The Check-up Song.”
“It’s an amazing adventure for our preschool-age children,” says Antoine Banks-Sullivan, the tour’s performance director. “The demographic is (ages) 2 to 5, but it’s really a lot of fun for the entire family.”
The show, Banks-Sullivan says, is really three performances in one. Following the special Doc McStuffins pre-show, Sophia, along with her step-siblings Amber and James, prepare for the annual friendship festival. Sofia, on a quest to deliver the perfect gift to her royal subjects, gets a little help with a cameo from the one-and-only Cinderella.
In Act 2, Jake and his pirate friends Izzy and Cubby embark on an adventure to find a mysterious treasure-filled volcano. Battles with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee ensue and even Peter Pan makes an appearance to help the young pirates save the day.
The show is a tremendous undertaking, Banks-Sullivan says, beginning a full year before the rehearsals begin. Producers work closely with Disney to develop a storyline, and then the same actors who do the voices for the animated television shows are brought in to record songs and voiceovers.
About two months before opening day, a cast begins rehearsing six days a week for 10 hours a day on average.
“At the end of this year-long process you see this show go up with lights and set, you see all the costume ideas, and it all comes together,” Banks-Sullivan says. “I’ve seen it evolve and change and become something even better.”
The cast has been crossing the country, performing in front of crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 people per show, Banks-Sullivan says. This weekend will mark the cast’s first visit to Atlantic City.
“Everything’s a surprise on the road,” Banks-Sullivan says. “It’s live theater. We travel with nearly 50 people on five tour buses. That’s an adventure in itself. It’s a living, breathing, well-oiled machine now.”
All three animated shows have quickly become huge Disney hits for their cross-gender appeal and reflection of nontraditional families. “Doc McStuffins” features an African-American family with a stay-at-home father and a doctor mother, while Sophia is part of a blended family.
In 2012, “Doc McStuffins” and “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” ranked as cable TV’s top two series for all children ages 2 to 5. “Sofia the First,” which debuted last year, quickly became cable TV’s top series for all children ages 2 to 5 and for girls ages 2 to 5, and is the No. 1 preschool cable TV series on television.
“It’s great, because these shows … are relating to nonconventional families,” Banks-Sullivan says. “With Sophia, it’s a stepdad as opposed to the typical family. That’s the situation our kids are running into more and more every day. All those male characters in the show really appeal to boys. It’s really awesome Disney has taken that route.”