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.
The synopsis of Tarzan is about a shipwreck off the coast of Africa. The young son of an English couple, who are killed by a leopard, is raised by a tribe of gorillas to manhood when a pretty English naturalist crosses his path and teaches him about love and civilized ways. Phil Collins expands his Oscar-winning song from Disney's cartoon feature film into a full Broadway score.
The play was not a tremendous hit and seemed to have missed the mark. Tarzan is such a fascinating story revisited so often, but the story is a little shallow. It doesn't hold the attention of viewers on the screen or stage. The opening scene of that animated feature Tarzan by Disney is moving and beautifully choreographed. The rest of the movie is comically written for younger audiences. Way too many gags that children love but don't hold up on a stage.
The next hit created with help from Disney is the Broadway premiere of Mary Poppins. Life comes full circle with this one as Walt Disney hired the Broadway vocalist Julie Andrews in 1964 for the on-screen version of this musical. Mary Poppins is based on the books by P.L. Travers and the classic Walt Disney film. Mary Poppins is the Banks family's story and how their lives change when nanny Mary Poppins arrives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London. The music and lyrics were composed by the musical brother duo Richard and Robert Sherman. Anthony Drewe and George Stiles composed the additional original music. The book was written by Julian Fellowes, who also created the hit British show Downton Abbey.
It premiered on Broadway on October 14th, 2006, and closed in 2013. It ran for 2,619 performances and was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won one. The Broadway version is darker than the movie version. Fiona and I saw this in a private off-broadway regional performance, and it was well done. I wasn't sure why they introduced the darker elements and wondered if they were trying to be more loyal to P.L. Travers' books. I'm not sure it needed to go in that direction. What drew people in to see this musical Broadway performance was the Disney musical live-action film, and I think the overall feeling that people felt when the film was over. It became available for smaller theater performances in 2014.
You would think the next Broadway musical that Disney premiered would be a massive hit for Disney. The movie launched the second classic animation phenomenon that brought Disney back from the brink of bankruptcy. The Little Mermaid was released as an animated feature in 1989 and premiered on November 3rd, 2007. Unfortunately, it only ran for 685 performances. The reviews weren't good and described it a graceless blunder. Disney tried hard to promote it with a push before the premiere on the Disney Channel. They promoted the musical with behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast.
In the musical adaptation of Disney's 1989 film, a curious young mermaid falls for a handsome human prince and agrees to a dangerous bargain with a powerful sea witch in exchange for legs and a chance to live with the prince on land. Alan Menken wrote the music with lyrics created by Glenn Slater and Howard Ashman. Doug Wright wrote the playbook adapted from Disney's take on the original Little Mermaid story by Hans Christian Anderson. It is a great story but not as powerful as the Lion King. The Little Mermaid was originally conceived as a Just So Story to explain foam's presence on the water and waves. It was nominated for two Tony Awards.
You can still see the Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios. It is a shortened, visually stimulating production staged for younger children, but has some fun surprises for everyone. There are lots of special effects, and you may get a little wet. The show is becoming a little dated, and I would love to see this updated to the latest technology. You may want to see it soon because it may soon be retired. A licensed version of The Little Mermaid is available for a regional theater to perform.
Now we head into uncharted territory for Disney on Broadway. They decided to bring out one of their hit live-action films that featured Whoopi Goldberg. Sister Act was released in 1992 and was so popular it spawned a sequel. Even I went to see Sister Act because it was just salty enough with a few good slapstick comedic moments. The Soul music of the sixties enjoyably influenced the movie. It is an uplifting and feel-good film, bu I never thought they would try to turn Sister Act into a Broadway musical.
Sister Act is about a disco singer Deloris Van Cartier that is placed in protective custody in a dying convent. Her unique brand of funk comes face-to-face with the traditions of the church. Alan Menken wrote the music with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Bill Steinkellner and Cheri Steinkellner wrote the playbook. It opened on March 24th, 2011, and closed in 2012 with 561 performances. Not a huge hit, but it did garner five Tony Award nominations. It is still traveling throughout the country and will be back as soon as theaters open again.
This next film was written as a musical and also didn't fare well when it originally was released but picked up steam as a cult classic with the Millennials. Newsies was a lack-luster movie that I didn't see because I was in college, and it wasn't targeted to college kids. But the fans of Newsies came out to see it when it hit Broadway and especially the traveling addition. Newsies was a live-action filmed released in 1992 that starred Christian Bale. We all know him as Batman.
Newsies is the tale of newsboy Jack Kelly, played by Christian Bale, who dreams of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. When Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies his army of newsies to strike. It is inspired by the newsboys' true story going on strike in New York City in 1899. So we can thank Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst for the story. Alan Menken composed the music, and the lyrics were by Jack Feldman. The playbook was written by Harvey Fierstein, who is from Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire's fame. Once you see Fierstein on stage or in a film, you won't forget his signature raspy voice and flamboyant personality.
As Disney departs from their typical ventures into Animated Features and Live Action adaptations, they look into creating a whole new type of play based on a book published in 2004 by Hyperion Books, a subsidiary of the Disney corporation. Peter and the Starcatcher is a best-selling novel by Dave Barry, a humorous syndicated columnist, and Ridley Pearson, who also wrote the Kingdom Keepers for Disney. Peter and the Starcatcher explores how a young orphan ultimately became Peter Pan. Peter and the Starcatcher upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, this play explores the depths of greed and despair, the bonds of friendship, duty, and love.
It was developed for the stage by Rick Elice, and Wayne Baker composed the music. Peter and the Starcatcher opened to audiences on March 28th, 2012, and closed the next year in January with only 319 performances. This play is wildly creative with its simple stage setting, simple props, and cast members. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won five. This play was the most critically acclaimed play for Disney, second only to The Lion King. It can be seen traveling across the country and being performed by the local, regional theater.
Next, Disney heads back to its roots and adapts the musical Aladdin for Broadway. Based on the 1992 animated film, Disney's Aladdin tells the story of a street-smart commoner whose whole life changes when he meets a magical genie who can grant him three wishes. Aladdin wants the hand of Princess Jasmine, but that means becoming something he's not and going toe to toe with Jafar, who wants the genie for his evil plans.
Alan Menkin composed the music for Aladdin with lyrics written by Howard Ashmen and Tim Rice. The new lyrics for the music were written by Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the book for Aladdin. This musical previewed on February 26th, 2014, and plans to come back as soon as the theaters open again. Up to know, they have had 2,503 performances, and it was nominated for five Tony Awards and won one. Aladdin is a story that amazingly transitions well to the stage. There is so much that draws you into the story, and the music is just fun and pulls the story along beautifully. Aladdin isn't one of my favorite Disney animation features, but I loved seeing it on stage at Disney California Adventure. It was breathtaking. The fantastic special effects that enhance this musical bring whimsy to Aladdin. I definitely will be visiting the theater to see this one.
Next up was a very short-lived adaptation of Pinocchio that few have seen, and there is no traveling version to view. The story of Pinocchio is a childhood classic written by Carlo Collodi. The original story is much darker than the family-friendly one created by Walt Disney in 1940. Dennis Kelly wrote the playbook and included the original music from the Walt Disney animated feature composed by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington, and Paul J. Smith. The premiere opened in Lyttleton Theater at the Royal National Theatre, London running from December 1st, 2017 to April 10th, 2018.
Next, we explore the latest musical exploration of Frozen. Disney had been working on this adaptation for seventy years. Disney dove straight into the production of the stage adaptation with the success fo the film. The film was released in 2013, and the musical follows the story of the 2013 Academy Award-winning Disney film of the same name. The synopsis provided is short and privy and leaves a lot to the imagination. Frozen is the timeless tale of two sisters pulled apart by a mysterious secret. Both are searching for love. They just don't know where to find it.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez composed the music and Jennifer Lee wrote the playbook. The original story is loosely based on the Snow Queen written by Hans Christian Anderson. It opened on February 22nd, 2018, and closed on March 11th, 2020 with 822 performances. It was also nominated for three Tony Awards. I researched and found out that the tickets for Frozen were ten to twenty dollars less than The Lion King and Aladdin. I assume that they will start a traveling version once the theaters open up.
Ryan, Fiona, and I saw the stage presentation at Disney California Adventure. It was good but not as mesmerizing or entrancing as Aladdin. The music is Broadway-quality, but the story is for children. Children aren't going to see a play over and over, not at $75 a ticket. Adults are willing to see and pay more for The Lion King and Aladdin.
At the end of our podcast, we quickly talked about a few plays that Disney on Broadway produced. Disney clearly wanted to work with the talent that was creating these plays. They were willing to take a risk on their behalf. The first one was King David in 1997. Alan Menken and Tim Rice created a musical that centered around the story of King David. The musical covers his day as a shepherd who slays the giant Goliath to becoming the king of the Israelites. There were only six performances.
The next one they tackled was Aida with Elton John in 2000. This Elton John-Tim Rice pop opera, inspired by Verdi's classic opera, tells the story of enslaved Nubian princess Aida. She falls for the captain of the guard, Radames, who is betrothed to the Egyptian princess, who is Aida's mistress. It played for 1,852 performances over four years. This obviously was well received and loved by many audiences.
The final one they worked on was Arcadia. Tom Stoppard examines events at an English country home in 1809 and the present day. Mathematics, romance, Lord Byron, and other ideas and feelings contribute to the past, as two academics attempt to unravel them in the present. It ran a little longer than King David, but didn't make through a season with only 108 performances.
Now that we have covered Disney on Broadway don't forget to check out the fun curriculum and activities on their website. They have some great live events while Broadway is closed and the Girl Scouts sponsored one of these live events. It was a session with Disney Teaching Artist Lauren Chapman. Chapman walked the girls through an exploration of three Disney on Broadway productions: The Lion King, Frozen, and Aladdin. I have included the direct links below for their curriculum and upcoming live events.
Frozen Enrichment Materials “ Inspiration, Adaptation, Rehearsal and Design https://frozenthemusical.com/enrichment/
The Lion King Eductional Materials
Another link we wanted to share was to a site that helps you anticipate the cost to produce a Disney production. Disney makes a lot of money from licensing their theatrical productions.
Before discussing Disney on Broadway, we discuss which animated feature or live-action film we would like Disney to produce on Broadway. Fiona wishes to see an animated feature that was recently released as a live-action film, Dumbo. Her idea introduces a circus ring to the theater. Ryan falls back to one of his favorite Disney movies, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I keep the Hayley Mills fun going and would love to see Parent Trap on the stage. Let us know what you would like to see on Broadway.
We would love to hear from you and your family. If you have any comments, questions, or fun and fancy-free thoughts, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please enjoy our latest podcast, Dispodopolis.
Don't forget to check out Fiona's end of year stop-motion animation project that was created with the Lego Steamboat Willie set.
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