by Sami DeSocio
Disney has always been magical, has always produced memorable musical movies, and, as of 1994, has even produced memorable Broadway musicals. And with The Lion King taking its place as the 13th longest running show in Broadway history, I began thinking of the other Disney shows.
Disney wanted to bring their movie, Beauty and the Beast to Broadway in the 90’s, when Times Square was a very different place. Disney execs were cautious about bringing their brand to Broadway, since the theatre district (at the time) was surrounded by adult movie theatres and stores: a definite no-no for this family company. When Michael Eisner went before Mayor Giuliani about the problem, he was assured the area would be cleaned up, and by the time the show went into previews, it was.
The first show that I saw on Broadway was Beauty and the Beast. It was the show that inspired my love of theatre. It was a beautiful musical with all of songs that I grew up singing along with the movie including, “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast”. The show ran for thirteen years before it took its final bow in 2007.
The Lion King is the most successful of Disney’s shows. It had its premiere in 1997 and is still going strong to this day. With its use of innovative puppetry (the actors are actually working the life-sized puppets with their whole bodies), beautiful scenery and beloved music, it’s not hard to see why it’s been running and successful for so long.
There are many other wonderful shows (Newsies, Mary Poppins, Tarzan, Aida and The Little Mermaid), but rather than look at the history of those shows, I’d rather point out something that I believe has made this company successful on Broadway: Disney loves using composers that breathe life into characters. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman brought so many characters to life, and stand by their work along its journey to the stage. Alan Menken currently has his name on the smash Disney hit Newsies. And I would be remiss not to point out the wonderful work done by Elton John and Tim Rice for The Lion King. Though songs like “Circle of Life” appeared first in the movie version of the story, they transition beautifully to the stage. Songs like “Chow Down” (written specifically for the Broadway show) are wonderful additions.
Between the story, the music, and the wonderful scenery Disney makes their shows jump right out of the movie screen and onto the stage. Their beloved blockbuster characters attract even the most timid of theatre-goers, but once you’re in the theatre, the shows can please even the most hard-headed of Broadway purists.