As musical theatre enthusiasts we can become very protective over our community. In the past 20 years Disney films have become a huge part of both Broadway and the West End, taking them both by storm. As I currently write a Disney based blog on my personal page, which you can view here, I for one am very glad to be given the chance to see these fantastic animated films on the live stage. For this post I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and relive the invention of these magical scores that we have grown up with on screen and now able too on stage.
Beauty and the Beast, one of my all time favourites, was written by the wonderful Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman. It is without a doubt a masterpiece. It opened on Broadway in 1994, midway through the Disney renaissance, and ran until 2007. The Disney renaissance wasn’t just this re-birth of animation, but of music as well. Beauty and the Beast felt like a musical theatre production. It also opened in London in 1997 and ended in 1999. It tells the story of a selfish-prince who has been transformed into a beast as punishment for these self-centred ways. To revert back to his former self, the Beast must earn the love of the shows leading lady, Belle.
The adaptation did not disappoint its audiences and it truly changed the game for musical theatre. Not only did it display the quintessential Disney magic within the score, along with a magic transformation from Beast to Prince and dancing silverware the stage tricks delighted audiences of the time. It paved the way for more Disney classics to become musicals. However, critics in the Big Apple were left mostly unimpressed. Disney was ridiculed for deciding to produce the musical themselves as opposed to getting on board with national theatre companies. David Richard for the New York Times called the show “hardly a triumph of art, but it’ll probably be a whale of a tourist attraction”. Despite this, it drew in the crowds and the public loved it. It did however feel that some were still left unsure of how this would affect the likes of Broadway and the West End, and critics alike needed something else to re-confirm that having Disney on the stage would be a good thing.
It was The Lion King that arguably made this leap. With the fantastic work of director Julie Taymor, she transformed the film into a brand new work of art. It oozes African culture, music and dance into several aspects of the show, wowing both American and English audiences alike. With Elton John and Tim Rice on board, more songs were created to move the story along. It opened on Broadway in 1997 and in London in 1999, both running ever since. One of my favourite aspects of the show is that Rafiki’s gender was changed to a female. Taymor believed that there was generally no leading female role within the film. It showed that a character as such can be fluid and not be confined to what we believe it to be. It worked.
Beauty and the Beast opened the way for a change in theatre, but the work on The Lion King confirmed its success. Some argued that Taymor reinvented what we call theatre. It’s an awe-inspiring production and I am so glad I have had the chance to see it.
Tarzan came next, opening on Broadway in 2006, never reaching our way over the pond. It was a short-lived show and was I’d argue it’s Disney’s most experimental. It’s very green. The jungle became an entire atmosphere on stage. The original Phil Collins score continued for the musical. It received very mixed reviews, and was coined as failing to leave the two dimensional film into the three dimensional aspect of the stage. Despite this, the music was very well praised.
Hello Mary! – Mary Poppins was the next logical choice for Disney. It has an outstanding soundtrack, a magical story and a fantasy filled setting, our home country. It was the first Disney musical to premiere in the West End first in 2004 making it’s way over to Broadway in 2006. This musical has a special place in my heart, as it was the first professional production I saw on the West End. Once again the original music from the Sherman Brothers was added in and new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were included. It’s a big show; full of fun ensemble numbers and exciting dance breaks. Despite the amazing special effects and great characters, the message behind the story also remained so important within the show, especially for young people. It shows that hope and optimism can be a powerful force in the face of hard times.
The Little Mermaid is up next. It is in it’s own right a spectacle of a show. It is full of colour, from the vibrant sea creatures to Ursula’s evil lair. Our leading lady Sierra Boggess was required to use wheelies in order to give off that mermaid illusion. It opened on Broadway in 2008 and didn’t last too long, closing in 2009. Despite the short run the soundtrack is beautiful, She’s In Love being a personal favourite. It was The Little Mermaid (1989) that signalled the Disney renaissance and was a complete masterpiece. Despite this, it didn’t last that long and it showed that despite some Disney musicals being critically acclaimed, others were being met with mixed reviews. It is all-important to realise that some of these shows may have not been on stage for as long, but they still made a lot of money.
In 2012 Newsies fans were welcomed with a brand new production from Disney’s second live-action film becoming a musical. Another fantastic score by Alan Menken was incorporated with sensational dancing and a hard-hitting story. I personally have never got into it, but have made it one of my New Year resolutions to listen to the soundtrack and watch the film. From what I have researched and just generally know, the film Newsies grew into its own cult phenomenon so the musical just continued that success.
In November 2010 Disney fans across the globe rejoiced at the news that Alan Menken was working on an adaptation of the film Aladdin. The show premiered on Broadway in 2014, replacing Mary Poppins. It also opened in the fantastic Prince Edward Theatre in the summer of 2016. I am dying to see it. The show is delighting audiences in New York and London and once again includes some new numbers for the show. The stage adaptation has made some big changes, especially with the removal of the animal characters from the film. It is meant to be very hilarious and a fresh new approach to the story we know and love.Despite whether critics have enjoyed these shows or not, the titles have brought many people to Broadway and the West End, getting audiences more interested in musical theatre and that has to be celebrated. I think what is also important is that Disney musicals didn’t just get bums on seats, some of the greatest productions have been made within this time The Lion King I believe to be a creative and extraordinary high point.
So what’s next? Disney CEO Bog Iger announced that a Broadway stage adaptation of the film Frozen was happening, due to open in 2018. There have also been discussions in the theatre world of a production of The Jungle Book. The possibilities are endless, as the Walt Disney Studios have created amazing musical animated films. I personally would love to see Tangled on the stage, as well as Disney’s newest film Moana. It would be out of this world.
What do you guys think? Do you enjoy Disney musicals? And if you could have any Disney film turned into a musical what would you choose?
Let us know @MTAS_Official & @charlieareyno