Disney started their Broadway conquest with the stage adaptation of my favourite Disney movie of all time, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. After The New York Times called the original movie “the Best Broadway Musical of 1991”, Disney tried their best to push for a stage adaptation of the show. Opening at the Palace Theatre on Broadway on April 18th 1994 – following tryouts in Houston over Christmas in 1993 – the show ran for over 5.5K performances on Broadway before closing at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre on July 29th 2007. The production starred Susan Egan and Terrence Mann as Belle and Beast and was nominated for 9 Tony Awards, but only took home one: Best Costume Design. Beauty and the Beast also played in London at the Dominion Theatre, but for a much less successful run: the show ran from 1997 through 1999 (the year I was born!) and won the Olivier for Best New Musical.
Following the major success of Beauty and the Beast, Disney turned to their next big musical movie success to take it to the stage: THE LION KING. Julie Taymor was brought on board to direct the visionary musical adaptation of this animal-based tale which opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre on October 15th 1997 following the out-of-town tryout in Minneapolis that previous July. The show then moved to the Minskoff in 2006 and continues to run there on Broadway to this day and is the third-longest running show in Broadway history. A West End production started performances at the Lyceum Theatre on October 19th 1999 and continues to run there to this day. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning many including Best New Musical, as well as being nominated for 8 Olivier Awards. Like Beauty and the Beast, the show features many differences to the film for the sake of adding time to the story but strangely, the show cut a scene and the song ‘The Morning Report’ from the running in June 2010 – a rarity for a show to do over a decade into its run. The Lion King is not only the biggest box office success in Broadway history, but it is also the biggest box office success in history ever. And we also have to thank The Lion King for blessing us with ‘Shadowland’ – one of the best songs ever written, period.
Following Disney’s success with stage musicals based on their animated movies from the 90s, they turned to one of their most successful musicals to date: the 1960s live action musical movie Mary Poppins. Cameron Mackintosh decided to make his own stage production of the show in collaboration with Disney in the latter part of 2004. After tryouts in Bristol, the show premiered in the West End at the Prince Edward Theatre on December 15th 2004 and ran for over three years until it closed on January 12th 2008. Following the success of the London production, the show opened on November 16th 2006 at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York and London’s original Bert, Gavin Lee, reprised his role. The show was nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Musical before closing its doors on March 3rd 2013 after over 2.5K performances and 6 years on Broadway.
Perhaps Disney’s most random stage adaptation to date was their next one, though: TARZAN. A workshop version of the show was staged in 2004 with Matthew Morrison as Tarzan and Laura Bell Bundy as Jane – the show eventually headed to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway on May 10th 2006. The show closed after around 500 performances though on July 8th 2007 due to poor ticket sales and the show is yet to make its London premiere.
Now there is one Disney Broadway musical that has never made it to London, which I really think needs to get over here sooner or later... THE LITTLE MERMAID. Starring then-unknown actress Sierra Boggess alongside Norm Lewis and Sherie Rene Scott, The Little Mermaid replaced Beauty and the Beast at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre on January 10th 2008 – The Little Mermaid was actually the reason that Beauty and the Beast closed, because Disney feared that having two Disney Princess musicals running on Broadway at the same time would divide audiences. The show was nominated for two Tony Awards and won neither and closed in August 2007 after almost 700 performances.
Now for the fan favourite: NEWSIES. The musical adaptation of the flop-movie Newsies started performances at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in September 2011 for four weeks. Due to major success at the Paper Mill, a Broadway production was announced and the show opened at the Nederlander Theatre on March 12th 2012 for a limited engagement, but it was announced that May that due to high demand, the run had been made open-ended. With Jeremy Jordan at the helm and then Corey Cott after him, the show concluded its run in August 2014 after a little over 1000 performances under its belt. It was the first Disney musical to have over 1000 performances on Broadway since Mary Poppins and as a result, they started the hunt for a London theatre back in 2013. Sadly, three years on and there is still no sign of a London production.
And finally, the show we have all been waiting for: ALADDIN. After out of town tryouts in Seattle back in 2011 and again in Toronto in 2013, the show officially opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre (after Mary Poppins had closed) in March 2014. The show was nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical and took home one award: Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for the show’s Genie, James Monroe Iglehart. The show continues to play on Broadway today and we cannot wait for the London production to open at the Prince Edward Theatre, with previews from May 27th and official opening on June 15th (I’ll be there June 21st!)
Other Disney musicals that never made it to Broadway include the recent production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME at Paper Mill Playhouse (which I would love to see!), Freaky Friday which will have its first workshop this fall, the musical adaptation of TANGLED which plays on the Disney Cruiseline, THE JUNGLE BOOK which is yet to go further than an out-of-town tryout and many, many more. I also had a dream the other week that I saw HERCULES: THE MUSICAL on Broadway and considering Disney love turning their 90s musicals into stage shows, was this a premonition? I HOPE SO!
What’s your favourite Disney musical, and which one would you love to see come to London? (FYI: hardest question EVER!) Tweet me @shaunycat and @theatre_direct to let me know and you can get your tickets to see ALADDIN at the Prince Edward Theatre here on LondonTheatreDirect.com.