Disney on Broadway

Kelly Ostazeski

The Walt Disney Company has had shows on Broadway for twenty-five years. It's hard to believe that a quarter of a century ago, the first Disney Theatricals production, Beauty and the Beast, opened on Broadway in 1994. Belle, the Beast, and Gaston took Broadway by storm, and started a tradition of adapting animated and live action musicals to the stage.

After Beauty and the Beast, Broadway saw productions of The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Aladdin, and Frozen. Disney also created a production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which opened in Germany and has also played regional theatres on this side of the Atlantic. In London, a production of Pinocchio opened in 2017. Original shows such as Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, Peter and the Starcatcher, and On the Record also opened on Broadway or on tour.

“Actress Buyi Zama as Rafiki in Taiwan”  by The Lion King’s Taiwan staff is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Actress Buyi Zama as Rafiki in Taiwan” by The Lion King’s Taiwan staff is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Upcoming productions include Hercules, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Disney also planned revivals of Beauty and the Beast and Aida, both of which I personally can't wait to see, since I never saw them on Broadway.

As of this writing, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen are still running on Broadway.

Disney on Broadway has launched the careers of many of the stars of these musicals, such as Susan Egan (Belle in Beauty and the Beast), Sierra Boggess (Ariel in The Little Mermaid, which was also her Broadway debut), James Monroe Iglehart (the Genie in Aladdin, which earned him a Tony Award), Laura Michelle Kelly (London's original Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins), Jeremy Jordan (Jack in Newsies), and Kara Lindsay (Katherine in Newsies).

Like many of these established musical theatre stars who got their start on Broadway in Disney musicals, for many audiences a Disney musical is their first Broadway show, or for young artists a Disney musical gives them the inspiration to go after their theatrical dreams, or it's the first show they are in.

A Disney show was not my first Broadway show, or the first show I was in, but Broadway's production of Mary Poppins did inspire me to return to my theatre aspirations, and over the years I was able to see it many times at the New Amsterdam Theatre (current home of Aladdin) and on tour. Through Mary Poppins, I met many friends and many of the cast members, and for a while, the theatre felt like home. I ended up seeing six Marys and six Berts between Broadway and the tour, and then later got to see the Marys that I'd missed in other productions. I also took my friends to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, who were curious about it after I'd raved about for months. It was only their second show in New York, and their first had been a matinee that day!    

I feel that Disney on Broadway is important to our art form for those reasons, and because it's incredible to see these timeless stories and characters come to life. Disney Theatricals pushes the boundaries of set design, special effects, choreography, and costume design to create a truly visually stunning experience that brings these often fairy tale and fantasy worlds to stunning reality. The Beast's transformation to human, Elsa's ice magic and incredible costume change from coronation gown to iconic blue ice dress, Bert tap dancing on the proscenium, Mary Poppins flying over the audience, a magic carpet ride, a cast of animals on stage brought to life through puppetry...Disney always delivers the magic. Then there is the choreography: the stunning spelling of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”; tap dancing chimney sweeps; “Under the Sea” fish and sea creatures; cutlery, plates, and furniture dancing to “Be Our Guest”; and the incredibly energetic dancing newsboys.

Disney often gets criticism from critics and Broadway purists for being too touristy, too kid-oriented – but because of this artistry and the inspiration these stories and performances give, I believe that these shows belong on Broadway. The stories are timeless, the designs are top-notch, the music is iconic, and the performances are great. There is a reason these shows are popular, and a reason that amateur theatres do them for years to come – not just because of the name, but because of the shows themselves. The shows have inspired a generation of young artists, performers, and audiences, and made many dreams come true. I had the chance to talk to several Disney fans who were impacted in some way by these musicals, whether on stage or in the audience. 

Olivia saw Beauty and the Beast when she was only five years old. Imagine being five and seeing your favorite characters live on stage! Imagine, according to her, “feeling so drawn to what was happening on stage. [She] couldn’t look away the entire show. It excited [her] so much and it made [her] want to perform.” She said it's the reason she's studying musical theatre to this day. She was later cast as Jane Banks in Mary Poppins. She said, “I think Disney on Broadway opens up the live theatre to every single age group. It has stories that every single person can connect to and enjoy. Disney on Broadway is important because it can open the door and be the reason someone so young decides they want to do theatre.”

Becky loves Newsies and said that “Newsies inspired me to dream for a better life.” Winchelle also connected to Newsies and said, “they pretty much left me speechless, with tears falling down my cheeks; it was spectacular.” She also wrote that Disney is “very important because it inspires a lot of people. It has the ability to spark some light to that theater-loving person that was hidden behind a dark closet within ourselves.”

Kim was lucky enough to see Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins. She wrote, “I remember being absolutely in awe the entire time. The costumes, the actors, and the music that I loved! It was all right there in front of me…LIVE! I had to try really hard not to sing along. The movie had always been my favorite...I saved all my pennies over the next few months and took my first trip to New York City. The first night I was there I saw Mary Poppins. I had a seat in the very first row of the balcony. It took a lot of self-control not to reach out and touch Mary Poppins’s feet as she flew by. She was so close; I felt the breeze from her dress!”

Emelie wrote, “I think they bring a lot of magic to Broadway that other shows can’t bring. Where else can you see mermaids, a woman with ice powers (and a dress that is literally magic), a flying carpet, and the king of Pride Rock?” She also said, “They are the go-to shows for families with young children. These are the kind of productions, that I think, have the biggest potential to show young children just how magical, and powerful Broadway is. Imagine being that young, and watching your favorite Disney Princess dancing across the stage! That could be the exact moment they find their passion. Disney on Broadway is far from inferior.”
Sarah was in a production of The Little Mermaid while in school and told me about her experience playing Flounder (the fish).  “I was lucky enough to get to play Flounder in my first show ever, and I think that being able to play a Disney character really enhanced my love for theater.  Of course I would have been happy enough to have just been in the ensemble, but being able to take such a well known, loved character and bring it to life on stage was such a life-changing moment.” She then wrote, “When I got to 8th grade we did another Disney show, Beauty and the Beast, and that is where I met two of my closest friends.  I played Cogsworth, and once again getting to step into the role of such a well known character reminded me of why I still did it...”

As far as how Disney shows can inspire new performers, Sarah wrote, “I think especially for younger actors, Disney is such a great way to get involved in theater, as we are often at the age where we aren't really sure how to start developing a character, so going in with a solid outline of what is expected of the character, it becomes so much easier to fill in the gaps and adapt it to yourself...Ensemble or lead, nothing beats getting to sing the iconic songs knowing the crowd won't be able to help but love it.”

Amanda has connected to two Disney shows throughout her theatre-going life: Newsies and Frozen. She wrote to me about how two of the cast members inspired her through their performing and beyond, Kara Lindsay and Patti Murin. “Two ladies who have been involved in Disney Theatrical Productions have inspired me. First, is Kara Lindsay (Katherine in Newsies). The first time I saw Newsies, I didn’t know who she was. I was so incredibly inspired by her and her performance as Katherine. That performance right then and there is what inspired me to get back into musical theater. Patti Murin (current Anna in Frozen) is the other person who has inspired me not only as an actress, but as a person. I am constantly inspired by Patti and everything she does for the mental health community.”

Amanda is passionate about Disney and its impact on audiences. “I think Disney on Broadway is important to our art because it’s timeless. It’s something that everyone, no matter how young or old, knows. People get to see these movies that they grew up watching come to life right in front of their eyes. Disney on Broadway is also important because many kids’ first Broadway shows are Disney productions. I just recently took my 4-year-old cousin to Frozen for her very first Broadway show and it was such a magical experience. Getting to see the excitement on her face as we approached the theater, and the looks on her face while watching the show, was priceless. I hope that she will remember that experience forever and want to keep going back to Broadway shows. Disney on Broadway shows are fun for ALL ages and it’s super important that there are Broadway shows that families can attend together.”

Disney has something for everyone – for a young actor who simply loves Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid and wants to play one of their favorite characters on stage. For a five-year-old girl who's never seen a musical before and sees Mary Poppins fly over the audience, or her favorite princess dancing in her ballgown, or Elsa actually use her ice magic in person. For a family of tourists in New York City who want to see a show but isn't familiar with strictly Broadway musicals and chooses The Lion King or Frozen because they know the story already and know it'll be a good night of entertainment. Perhaps the child in the audience will one day want to perform as well because they got to see Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, or any of the other of these magical shows. As they say in Frozen, “love is an open door,” and maybe in this case, that love is musical theatre, found through a Disney show. As Mary Poppins says, “anything can happen if you let it”.



** Thank you to Amanda, Becky, Emelie, Sarah, Winchelle, Olivia, and Kim for your time and your stories. ** 


Hear Those Bells Ring: A Discussion on Hunchback of Notre Dame

Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

 Now, ok I hear you all saying, “Hey Taylor didn’t you just do an entire article about Disney?” and to that I say look at the official logo for the musical, not the movie logo. You will notice the standard Disney’s (Insert Animated Classic Here) is absent. Even though it uses the music from the Disney film, it technically is not a Disney Theatricals show in the same way of - Ok, who am I kidding. It totally is. Anyways, if you haven’t been able to tell by now, I love Disney and I love their musicals. The company may show up very frequently in my articles, but hey, they’re slowly taking over the world anyways, so just preparing you to worship your new overlords.

Oh yeah, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, let’s talk about that.

I guess, somehow it is possible that maybe people don’t even know in the slightest what Hunchback actually is, and that’s fair - some of us aren’t as fond of the Disney renaissance as others are. So for many the most popular example of Hunchback is the 1996 Disney movie, but that itself is based on the classic story by Victor Hugo (you know the guy who wrote Les Mis), which in America is known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but in France, the books origin and location it is better known as Notre Dame De Paris. Which for those who need to brush up on their French is...just the name of the Cathedral. Victor Hugo didn’t really care much for fancy titles. That book went on to inspire an opera, several movies (most notably a black and white one in the thirties that came to be used as a huge reference for the Disney movie, the two drawing many visual parallels), the not Disney version musical, (it actually looks really cool and I believe it’s being shown in theatres temporarily soon and you absolutely should go see it), and of course a Disney movie! The story behind the movie is actually really cool because the movie was made after Beauty and the Beast did extremely well on Broadway, and Disney wanted to make a movie specifically to later be able to be turned into a musical and well…

It didn’t go the best. You see the musical was first adapted in Germany under the name Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame, which didn’t adapt much from the 1996 movie, and it actually did really well, there was of course plan for an American adaptation but it took years and years to happen. This is most likely because of the new songs and much closer story to Hugo’s that made this story overall much different than the 1996 movie. The show ran at La Jolla Playhouse and looked as if it was Broadway bound but, in the end, Hunchback got no further than that and was soon placed into licensing territory.

Hunchback tells the story of Quasimodo, the son of Jehan Frollo who, after being cast from the cathedral and dying from disease, gives his son onto Claude Frollo to take care of. Frollo appoints the deformed boy as the bellringer of Notre Dame who, after many years of ringing the bells and only being in the company of statues and gargoyles and his master, wishes to see the world outside of the cathedral and out there among the citizens of Paris. Quasimodo gets his chance to during the Festival of Fools, the one day Romanies, or “gypsies” as they are called, can walk around without being subject to arrest. During this, Quasimodo is decided to be the ugliest man in Paris and crowned the King of Fool, where he is then whipped and mocked by the citizens. He is saved by Esmeralda who, without knowing that the citizens would react so harshly, encouraged Quasimodo to enter the contest. Quasimodo retreats back into the bell tower where Esmeralda runs after him. Phoebus, the captain of the guard. stops her upon entering, but eventually lets her go. She finds Quasimodo and the two share a moment on the top of the world. Frollo who has developed a deep lust for Esmeralda, begins to stalk her, vowing to either maker her love him or burn her at the stake, while Quasimodo has fallen in love with Esmeralda and views her as the one bit of heaven’s light in his cold dark world. Esmeralda is then tried as a witch and arrested. Phoebus defies Frollo and refuses to turn her in and the two flee to the cathedral where Quasimodo is ringing the bells to sound the alarm that Esmeralda is in danger. Phoebus is injured, and left there while Esmeralda goes to seek refuge. She gives Quasimodo a map he must decode to find her, and the two, after much trial and error and almost being hung for entering the court of miracles, find her and warn her than since Esmeralda has fled, Frollo has found the hideout and will attack at dawn. In reality, Frollo has not found the hideout but follows Phoebus and Quasimodo to where it is and arrests Esmeralda and Phoebus while Clopin, the king of the gypsies, manages to escape. Esmeralda imprisoned is cornered and assuaged by Frollo overcome with lust, and then she and Phoebus are granted to spend their last night together, as Quasimodo who is now chained up in the bell tower is hopeless and would rather be made of stone than screw up anything else. When Esmerelda is about to be burned at the stake though, Quasimodo changes his mind and breaks free in order to save her. He swings down to the pyre and fights off the guards declaring sanctuary and climbing back up to the bell tower with an unconscious Esmeralda. Clopin returns and frees Phoebus who both rally the citizens to fight after Frollo breaks the sacred laws of sanctuary that states no one can be arrested inside the holy place. Quasimodo dumps hot lead into the streets below moments after Frollo manages to bust down the doors and make it into the cathedral. He confronts Quasimodo at the tower as Esmeralda dies in his arms. Overcome with rage and grief, he throws Frollo over the edge of the tower to his death. Quasimodo then goes into the streets with Esmerelda where the people who once wanted her to die realize their mistake and paint their faces and distort themselves in order to sympathize with the poor boy. The cast then delivers the final epilogue that Quasimodo would go to die with Esmeralda before closing the show with the question they asked in the beginning, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?”

Now, I absolutely love Hunchback. I mean, makes sense really, I wouldn’t be covering it if I didn’t. I had the chance to see it at Thesfest 2 years ago and I have had the pleasure of being a part of it. The music is incredible and serves to drive forward the message and the overall dark tone of the story. It covers a variety of topics such as racism, disabilities, and class without ever focusing on one specifically.  It covers the age old theme of accepting and embracing others differences in a very meaningful and impactful way. And oh my god did I mention the music. It is absolutely amazing, I mean I love everything Alan Menken, but this is spot on. The lyrics are written by Stephen Schwartz and this duo is absolutely incredible. It leads to already amazing songs like “God Help the Outcasts” and “Out There” being outranked by songs like “Made Of Stone” and the incredible show stopping Act 1 Finale, “Esmeralda”. I mean the soundtrack absolutely deserves a listen and the story as you just saw is compelling, interesting, and very engaging.

So I love it, it’s gained quite a sense of popularity in community theatres and high school, and its many people's favorite musical despite never going on Broadway. So why didn’t it? Well a lot of people would think it’s because of its dark theme. I mean three of the five main characters die by the end so… but actually, it’s an entirely different reason. See, just about every musical has a gimmick and while most are visual, Hunchback’s is an entire choir of 15-30 people who provide background vocals to the songs. Believe me when I say the choir is what makes the show different from any other musical, and Disney said they just simply could not make the show work with the cast and that large of a choir. It’s a shame, but for very reason Hunchback is one of the coolest recent musicals is the same reason we may never see it on Broadway and subsequently never tour, but it, as I mentioned, found success regionally, and recently had a critically acclaimed deaf west version.

I would highly encourage you if you haven’t seen or listened to Hunchback before to give it a try. It is one of my favorite musicals I’ve seen and one of my favorites I have been a part of. This show is truly incredible and I encourage you to see for yourself exactly what makes a monster and what makes a man…

And you can, because once again it’s The Upcoming Production Segment, where I show you where in the world Hunchback is currently or about to play so you have the chance to see the show for yourself…

Stage Door Repertory Theatre in California from August 25th to September 22nd http://www.stagedoorrep.org

The New Paradigm Theatre Company in Connecticut from August 18th to August 19th http://nptheatre.org

Music Theatre of Denton in Texas from October 19th to October 28th http://www.musictheatreofdenton.com

And I am starting a new thing this go around, if I missed any local production you would like to list go to this spreadsheet- https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LRfWXoigYMOL03ZlNH5rw9xffaOzgMMIdZOj0RQ1wNg/edit?usp=sharing and add your own. You can also view this list to find a production that may be closer to you!

....And that is all I have for you today. Thank out for reading and please keep checking back in on the blog. We release a new article every Monday and Thursday and they are all just as, if not more entertaining than this one. I hope you enjoyed reading and until next time, have a great week everyone and I will see you later in the month. Goodbye