Podcast No. 0037: Disney on Broadway

This month on Dispodopolis, we discuss Disney on Broadway. Fiona requested this particular subject. She wanted to dive into what shows Disney had experimented with and which had become showstoppers. We have seen a few of these plays in our hometown, but not on Broadway. As we traverse Disney's Broadway ventures, we learn there were many more misses than home runs. Journey with us and determine if your favorite animation feature or live-action film has produced into a Broadway production.

Much of life is closed down right now, including Broadway, and since Disney Plus released Hamilton, we wanted to examine Disney on Broadway. Broadway isn't something I necessarily follow very carefully since I have three kids and don't get out much. It is also slightly out of my price range. When a show does come to town, we need to weigh the cost benefits and whether this is something for the whole family or just a portion of our family. But believe me, I do enjoy a good Broadway performance. I'm so happy that so many of these have traveling versions, whether it be a professional traveling cast from New York or a regional theater making it their own. I can't imagine performing the same play night after night, but there are so many out there that crave that experience and the adulation that comes with it.

Before we dive into the musicals that define Disney on Broadway, we quickly mention two adult-themed dramatic plays. These two plays were Total Abandon in 1983 and Largely New York in 1989. They are both adult-themed and dramatic. Richard Dreyfus was heavily involved in Total Abandon, and it received mostly confused and frustrated reviews. Largely New York didn't fare much better, but luckily this didn't discourage Disney from continuing their quest to conquer Broadway.

Disney ventured into the Broadway musical theater in 1993 with a reimagined version of Beauty and the Beast for the stage. It premiered on April 18th, 1994. It continued on Broadway for three years and ran 5,461 performances. It was performed and traveled to various locations until 2007. Beauty and the Beast was traveling when my kids were too small to enjoy, and it was on Broadway when I was too old to appreciate it. I was able to see the Hollywood Studios, Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage version, which upset Fiona when she was young because they cut certain scenes and tweaked others. It wasn't faithful enough to the original version. Fiona would end in tears, and we would try to figure out a way to console. The most profound problem was she desperately wanted to see these performances.

The synopsis of Beauty and the Beast is about a beautiful young woman who takes the place of her imprisoned father in the castle of a beast, who is really a cursed prince. She teaches him to be courteous and respectful, and they fall in love in this stage adaptation of the animated Disney film, based on the classic fairy tale. It was written by Linda Woolverton, directed by Rob Roth, and includes music composed by Alan Menken and lyrics written by Howard Ashman, with new songs from Menken and Tim Rice. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards, and one won for Best Costume Design.

Next, Disney created an inventive magical puppetry experience to tell the story of The Lion King. The animated feature was released in 1994 and is the most popular animated feature from Disney Studios. This story transcends cultures and time and connects us like no other story. It first premiered on November 13th, 1997, and plans to return when Broadway opens again for live performances. To date, there have been 9,299 performances. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won six. Elton John composed the music, and the lyrics are by Tim Rice. Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers wrote the book.

The synopsis of The Lion King is about a lion cub prince Simba grows up in the African heartland until tragedy forces him to run away. In this musical version of the Disney animated film, he ultimately learns to take his rightful place in the animal kingdom. The reimagined version for the stage with a unique African themed puppetry experience. It is an awe-inspiring performance that captivates and immerses the audience from the very start of the show.

There isn't a version available for regional theater productions to perform since it is still traveling and currently running on Broadway. There is a small show, Festival of the Lion King, at Disney's Animal Kingdom. It is a show that introduces you to The Lion King's characters, but not the story. It is a fun festival of song and dance but loosely tied to the story.

Disney's next attempt was the lesser animated feature that was not a success for Disney. That film is called The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the animated feature came out in 1996. The Hunchback of Notre Dame starts when the bells of Notre Dame sound through the famed cathedral in fifteenth-century Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer who longs to be "Out There," observes all of Paris reveling in the Feast of Fools. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, Quasimodo escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn't the only one captivated by her free spirit, though the handsome Captain Phoebus and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies. It is an original dark story that Disney carefully rewrote to be family-friendly but still has several adult themes, dramatic situations, and violence.

It was not received well by audiences, and I'm not sure why Disney took on this daunting adult-themed novel by Victor Hugo. Alan Menken created the music, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and the book was by Peter Parnell. The stage play didn't do much better and was never officially on Broadway. The music belongs on a stage, and I'm not sure why it never took off. The story may have been too watered down for a serious audience and not friendly enough to take a family. It only appeared in Germany with a run that started at the end of 1999 and ran through 2002.

The next musical, Tarzan, was probably one of the most unexpected choices by Disney. The animated feature was released in 1999, and brought to the stage on May 10th, 2006. It ran for 486 performances. It was nominated for one Tony Award. The original story was by Edgar Rice Burrough and was adapted for the stage by David Henry Hwang. Phil Collins composed the music and lyrics.