Top 6 Musicals Adapted from Animated Disney Films
| By Ephram Ryan
Ever since the Tony Award-winning stage adaptation of Disney’s 1991 Oscar-winning film Beauty and the Beast premiered on Broadway back in 1994, Disney has more than proven themselves capable of bringing their beloved animated films to life. Shows like Aladdin and The Lion King, which feature outlandish stage designs, astonishing special effects and lavish musical numbers, have completely raised the bar for how future musicals should look and sound, and Disney continues to outdo themselves with every new musical adaptation they put on. Below you’ll find our list for the Top 6 musicals adapted from animated Disney films that have been staged either on Broadway or in the West End.
Pictured: The Lion King continues its legendary reign in the United Kingdom
The first on our list of animated Disney films, this popular tale of a boy raised by apes debuted on Broadway back in May 2006. The musical stayed true to the plot of the film, but with some minor changes made. Instead of getting chased by a pack of babbling, bumbling band of baboons, Jane is captured by a gigantic spider. Terk also received a controversial sex change and was cast as a male character, much to the dismay of fans, and Tantor the elephant was completely excluded from the story. Broadway’s Tarzan featured revamped versions of Phil Collins’ songs from the film, and Collins even wrote nine additional songs for the show.
The Broadway production of Tarzan: The Musical received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising Phil Collins’ musical score and others stating that his pop-inspired songs from the film did not translate well to the stage. For many, the minimalist jungle set design and costume design left much to be desired. While it was undoubtedly enjoyed by many fans of the original film, the musical closed on Broadway after just 35 previews and 486 performances. Tarzan: The Musical saw much more success abroad after undergoing a productional facelift for European audiences. The Netherlands production of Tarzan received three awards at the John Kraaijkamp Musical Awards including Best Full-Length Musical, while the German production enjoyed an astonishing 5-year run in Hamburg and has now been playing in Oberhausen since 2016. Tarzan has yet to swing into the West End.
5. The Little Mermaid
Based on the hit 1989 film released during Disney’s golden era, The Little Mermaid finally took Broadway under the sea in 2007 after nearly a decade of being in the works. For many fans of the original film, it was well worth the wait. Sierra Boggess originated the role of Ariel, effectively trading the mermaid’s animated fins for Broadway stage legs. After Bogess’s performance of ‘Part of Your World’ on ABC’s Good Morning America, the show made a huge splash but then was plagued with the infamous 2007 Broadway strikes that forced the premiere to be postponed. Despite critical acclaim, the Broadway production was shut down after just a year and a half, but like Tarzan, it enjoyed much success in mainland Europe. With its completely revamped and upgraded costume designs, gone were those awkward tail-like fins and Spongebob-esque walking sea creatures that completely ignored the laws of physics. Instead, some unique wire work was added that gave the illusion of characters actually floating underwater, thereby allowing Ariel, Flounder, Ursula and King Triton to soar to new heights. Hopefully, the West End will see Ariel comb her hair with a dinglehopper sometime in the near future.
Based on Disney’s most popular animated film of the 2010s that grossed approximately £1 billion worldwide, the musical adaptation of Frozen premiered earlier this year. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the musical has so far been a smash hit amongst fans of the film and the production was promptly nominated for three Tony Awards following its premiere on Broadway earlier this year. It has also garnered a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Puppet Design. The Broadway production features 20 songs in total, a far cry from the film’s eight. Frozen is a visual feast with many gorgeous special effects and outstanding performances, particularly from Cassie Levy as Princess Elsa, who does a fantastic job of belting ‘Let It Go.’ This Disney musical is fourth on our list because it is still a brand-new production and has several kinks to work out. According to some accounts, there are some pacing issues with the show and many scenes feel like filler. The Frozen production team is no doubt taking these criticisms into consideration, and perhaps if and when it freezes its way to the West End, it will have been tailored to perfection.
3. Beauty and the Beast
The one that started it all, this tale as old as time was Disney’s first animated film to be adapted into a musical and it enjoyed a remarkable 13 years on Broadway, running from 1994 until 2007 (5,461 performances). It currently ranks among the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals of all time. The production featured authentic costumes for many of the cartoon’s memorable characters, including Gaston, Belle and the enchantress disguised as a beggar who curses the Beast in the title’s opening vignette. Spectacular pyrotechnics brought Lumiere’s candlestick hands to life and a brilliantly designed costume for Cogsworth saw a pendulum swing to and fro behind a transparent section of his blouse, which truly gave the illusion of a man transformed into a grandfather’s clock.
The musical featured all eight of the film’s original songs, including a high-energy rendition of Be Our Guest complete with dancing dishes, girls in plate-dresses and electric cabaret-style high kicks. Beauty and the Beast: The Musical also included the number Human Again, which was originally written for the film but was cut due to story constraints. Thanks to the musical, which managed to slot this tune in at just the right spot in the story, the film version of the song was finished and reinstated in the film upon its rerelease. The West End production of Beauty and the Beast premiered in 1997 and won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1998. Susan Egan originated the role of Belle on Broadway and famously went on to voice the character of Meg in Disney’s 1997 film Hercules, which is currently in talks for a stage adaptation of its own.
Currently housed at the PrinceEdward Theatre, Aladdin is an absolute masterpiece of a show. Right from the get-go, the show captivates its audiences with a chilling overture that immediately pulls them into the whole new world of Agrabah. The musical is based on the Academy Award-winning 1992 Disney film that starred the late Robin Williams as Genie and it is an absolute triumph. Not only does it manage to approximate the magic, look and feel of the animated film, but also takes what is arguably the most entertaining song from the movie, ‘Friend Like Me,’ and transforms it into an unforgettable theatrical moment that feels so much better than the original on so many levels. It’s also no secret that the star of the show is Genie, who uses modern pop-culture references that help bring Aladdin out of the 1990s and into the 2010s. Aladdin premiered on Broadway in 2014 and in the West End in 2016 and is booking at the PrinceEdward Theatre until 9 February 2019. Make your wish come true and see Aladdin while you can!
For an in-depth review of why you should see the Aladdin musical, click here.
Purchase your tickets to Aladdin here.
1. The Lion King
Hakuna Matata! Having premiered on Broadway in 1997 and in the West End in 1999, it’s hard to believe this musical has been around for two decades, but also not surprising. With music by Elton John and Tim Rice and a plot of Shakespearean proportions, this film was destined for the stage from the moment it hit cinemas in 1994. Its incredulous longevity, legendary score by Hans Zimmer, and breath-taking visuals is enough to bring this musical to the top of our list. Having been playing at the Lyceum Theatre for nearly 19 years and currently booking until 10 February 2019 with an extension highly likely, The Lion King shows no signs of abdicating from the theatrical throne anytime soon. It could very well be running ‘for the rest of your days.’
See why The Lion King still reigns supreme. For an in-depth review of The Lion King, click here.
Purchase your tickets to The Lion King here.