This past Thursday, the Kingdom Hearts World Tour Orchestra stopped to visit Philadelphia and I was able to attend! Here is my honest review of the event.
Kingdom Hearts is my favorite game series of all time. It is the combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, creating an unlikely hit of a game series that I absolutely love. While the series hasn't always had the best track record, I have always been a dedicated fan. When the PS4 remaster of all of the games was released, I quickly bought it and played through all of the titles. Now I am pretty much obsessed and there is no help for me. My hype meter for Kingdom Hearts 3's release in January has skyrocketed. Heck, even my cat has taken on a new identity for the sheer reason that she has amber eyes. For KH newbies, this means that she has been Norted. Go play the games and you will understand.
My point in saying all of this is that I am a massive Kingdom Hearts fangirl. Despite the series shortcomings, I still stick with it because I freaking love it. Naturally, when I heard that an orchestra would be touring the globe playing music from the games, I immediately had to buy a ticket.
The original orchestra tour happened in 2017 and I unfortunately missed it. When it was announced in March that another tour would be coming to Philadelphia, I bought my ticket immediately.
The Kingdom Hearts score is composed by Yoko Shimomura and is absolutely brilliant. The music begs to be played at a live orchestra concert. As far as I am concerned, I'm not sure why this never happened sooner. After all, it was 2017 when the first tour happened. Kingdom Hearts has been around since 2002. It's about time!
The concert in Philadelphia was held at the Mann Center, an open-air arena located in Fairmount Park. Upon arrival, several employees direct you to a grassy parking lot which is very close to the front entrance of the Mann. Parking is $20, a bit of a high price in my opinion. The main gates are illuminated by glowing lights hanging from the trees and booths selling food and merchandise. After having your bags searched and tickets checked, you step into a paved area surrounded by the booths mentioned before. The atmosphere is very casual and light, providing room to move about and lots of areas to sit. It is also important to note that the bathrooms are large and clean, which is always a plus. One thing of importance is that this area is uncovered. Should it rain, the closest place you will find cover is the bathrooms or the arena itself. You are allowed to bring an umbrella inside should there be a threat of rain before a performance you attend. As I did not buy any food, I can not speak to prices or quality. Merchandise was expensive, but I imagine this ranges depending of the specific event.
One additional comment which has nothing to do with the event itself but with some of the guests, is that I absolutely loved seeing the cosplayers at this concert. Their outfits were awesome! Some were well known characters and others were more obscure. I loved them all!
The arena itself is very large, with a fair amount of seating. The seats are hard folding chairs similar to what you see at a baseball park so don't expect to be comfortable. They are also very close together so get to know your neighbor. As stated earlier, the Mann is an open-air arena which means that while the venue is built with a ceiling, it is not indoors. Where there would be walls are large openings that let in the fresh evening air. This is nice as dark settles, creating a very warm atmosphere with the occasional lightning bug floating above to set the mood. Folks can also bring picnic blankets and sit on the lawn behind the theater to enjoy the performance. One thing to note is that there were a lot of empty seats at this performance and I don't believe it is because there are a lack of Kingdom Hearts fans. I know people who wanted to go to this performance but couldn't because of ticket prices. Prices were incredibly high and unjustifiably so. This was a real bummer as it doesn't allow all fans to enjoy the music they love in person.
Now to the performance itself. It started 10 minutes late, which isn't a big deal. The lights dimmed following the announcement that the concert was beginning and that no photography, video recording, or audio recording was allowed. It was also announced that there would be a 15 minute intermission. The orchestra arrived on stage to a round of applause, followed by more applause as the pianist and conductor took their places.
The show started off strong with one of the more well recognized tracks from the series, Hikari. This was a fantastic start to the concert. The orchestra went on to play tracks such as Dearly Beloved (Union X version), Wave of Darkness, Vector to the Heavens, the Other Promise, and more. Playing along with the orchestra was a screen of clips from the video game cutscenes. While this was a nice addition, the clips often felt very out of place and did not flow well with the music playing. For example, if the song playing was The Other Promise, random clips of the character Roxas would show up on screen. Sometimes the clips were completely unrelated to the song itself, and this felt very jarring and disconnected to the music. It would have been nice for the clips to be more meaningful, but often times they felt cheap and quickly thrown together. That being said, there weren't always mismatched clips. I appreciate their inclusion from Kingdom Hearts 1 where Donald is flattened by a door. It sounds gruesome but it is actually quite funny. There were two instances of cutscene dialogue, both in Japanese. It would be hard to complain about the Japanese dialogue, but I do wish it would have been in English. As usual, the music itself was fantastic. There was a good ratio between the songs that played that I love vs. those I don't have strong feelings toward. Many songs, such as character themes and battle music, have been combined for the orchestra sets. Perhaps this is a nitpick, but I do not find the organization and combining of songs in the orchestra very well executed. It was well performed, but nothing flowed quite as nicely as I would have expected. Perhaps I am spoiled by Project Destati. I'm not sure.
What made the show, though, was the encore performance. As the orchestra finished off with a spectacular rendition of Passion, the conductor left the stage to a roar of applause and standing ovations. But the orchestra sat back down and did not look as if they were leaving the stage any time soon. After some encouragement to continue clapping and cheering from the lead violinist, the crowd roared in excitement as the conductor returned to the stage and set up to perform more music.
The orchestra performed two more numbers for the encore. First, they played the brand new world theme and battle theme from the upcoming Toy Story world in Kingdom Hearts 3. This was met with an overwhelming roar from the audience and was easily the highlight of the night. The music was incredible. While the world theme for the Toy Story world, called Toy Box, seems to be a rendition of You've Got a Friend in Me, it was the battle theme that got me pumped. It was incredible to hear new music and really got me hyped for this game. Can it be January yet??? Even though I am familiar with You've Got a Friend in Me, the orchestra did a lot of new stuff with the track, including choir parts and even some fun snapping. The screen also showed off clips from the Toy Story world, with actual gameplay which was nice as the entire concert up until that point had only been using cutscene footage and cinematics. It was absolutely incredible. The second track performed was March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra. The screen displayed the show credits, along with more clips before finishing. It was a wonderful end to the evening.
Overall, the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra in Philadelphia was awesome. While I had some gripes with the production, the orchestra itself was beyond amazing and of course the music speaks for itself. The night was simple and clean. Out of five stars, I give this four. If the orchestra ever does another tour, you know I will be attending for a second time!
For those unfamiliar with the Kingdom Hearts score, be sure to check out the soundtracks which are available to listen on YouTube!