Thursday, May 30, 2024

Meet Jennifer Kumiyama, the Long Beach vocalist whose dream to become a princess comes true in Disney’s ‘Wish’

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For Long Beach vocalist and performer Jennifer Kumiyama, never in her wildest dreams would she be featured in any Disney movie—let alone Disney’s “Wish,” the animated musical that is part of the entertainment company’s 100 year anniversary celebration.

And it is more than just another gig in the performer’s long list of credits.

This achievement? It’s an ode to her 8-year-old self

“If I could tell my 8-year-old self anything right now, I’d tell her to keep holding on to all of her wishes because, sometimes, they just come true. This one is for all the little, chubby, brown 8-year-old girls in wheelchairs with larger than life wishes that they think may never come true. Hold on to those wishes, girls—we can do anything.”

These were the words of Kumiyama when she was finally able to divulge that she would be voicing Dahlia, the best friend of Asha, in Disney’s “Wish.”

“They sought me out and asked me to audition,” Kumiyama said. “And I think that was to stay true to Dahlia’s character a bit because she does use a crutch, she does limp a little bit; she is part of the disabled community.”

And as to why they sought her out, Kumiyama potentially attributes it to her appearance in “Celebrity Undercover Boss,” [pictured] where she appeared on an episode with Broadway and Disney powerhouse Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa in “Frozen” and was solely responsible for fathers across the world knowing every word of “Let It Go.”

“I think it stems from my appearance on ‘Undercover,’ yes,” Kumiyama said. “But also, the disabled performing circle is small—we all kind of know or know of each other—so… I don’t know specifically how they found me, but I am so happy they did.”

The auditioning process was less than typical or ideal, with Kumiyama having to perform via Zoom—almost antithetical to her face-to-face theatre roots but obviously sensible when it comes to a strictly vocal performance that will be overlaid animation. It is, after all, her first voice over project.

“They asked to audition over Zoom and, at first, it was strange—but the reason why it was over Zoom, it’s because it’s voice-over work,” Kumiyama said, saying she sang “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s 2016 Lin Manuel Miranda-led hit, “Moana.”

And with a successful audition followed by two more successful auditions—one with production and one with directors—came the crazy part of the dream becoming tangible: In September of 2022, Kumiyama rolled through the doors of Disney’s recording studio to begin work on the massive project, where she worked until June of this year.

Though this wasn’t her first dance with Disney…

Jennifer Kumiyama was in “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” for its entire 13-year run. Courtesy of The Orange County Register.

Jennifer Kumiyama’s connection to Disney runs deep

For those who have visited the Disney parks in Anaheim—particularly Disney California Adventure (DCA)—one knows of the investment Disney puts into its live entertainment. When DCA opened to mediocre if not outright vitriolic reviews in 2001, the park knew they would have to use their infrastructure in innovative ways to cover the costs lost due to attendance not reaching estimates—and that included how to better use their 1,984-seat theatre, the Hyperion.

Yes, it had hosted the premiere of “Spy Kids” in 2001 and offered a brief, scaled-down version of Broadway’s “Blast!” but it wasn’t until 2003, when they created a 45-minute (and soon-to-be crowd pleaser) musical dedicated to the studio’s 1992 film hit, “Aladdin,” that the park garnered some respect.

And upon its premiere in 2003, Kumiyama became the first person in the world to grace a Disney stage in a wheelchair—and did so up until the show’s 2016 final performance, when the space would be given up to a stage version of “Frozen” (which is a bit ironic: Chris Buck, half of the directing team behind “Wish” with Fawn Veerasunthorn, was the director of the “Frozen” film. Full circle.)

Why ‘Wish’ shouldn’t be dismissed if you are thinking it’s a skip

“Wish” isn’t coming without its immediate critics—something Disney films have long endured, especially since the dawn of social media. And while folks may be continually mocking and hilariously comparing the villains of Disney past to the seemingly not-so-villainous character of King Magnifico, Kumiyama assures that the film is worth seeing.

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“There are so many Easter Eggs for Disney lovers—both old-school and new-school,” Kumiyama said. “The animation is very different; a mix of old-school animation and computer animation—and I think it simultaneously pays tribute to the past and classics while moving forward. It’s like a kiss to hand-painted cels from a computer.”

In that sense, it’s the Disney we all grew up with but one that is refined, contemporary in style and music, and more attuned to our current zeitgeist.

But perhaps most, we should go see it not just because we’re being encouraged to do so by the giant that is Disney but perhaps to simply support our neighbor and sister, who first saw Ariel on the big screen when she was 8 years old in “The Little Mermaid” and never imagined that her voice would projected to that very audience in the future.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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