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Disney's 20 Years on Broadway: Lion King, Beauty and the Beast Winners; Tarzan, Little Mermaid Losers

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Apr 09, 2014 04:06 PM EDT

Twenty years ago this month, Disney said "Open Sesame" to Times Square and Broadway, and Times Square and Broadway opened the sooty doors of the Palace Theater to Beauty and the Beast. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Disney's first Broadway musical opened April 18, 1994. It ran for 13 years.

The era of Mayor Rudy Giuliani had just begun, and 1994 was perfect timing for the Mouse, who scampered down Broadway just as the mayor's Times Square cleanup was getting underway.
Three years later, with Beauty still going strong, The Lion King roared into the New Amsterdam Theatre. It eventually topped Beauty's run of 46 previews and 5,461 performances, and it still hasn't yet closed, moving to the Minskoff and becoming the fourth longest-running musical in the history of Broadway.

Mary Poppins was another hit for the Hollywood franchise. Based on the books by P.L. Travers and, of course, the 1964 Disney movie, it had, appropriately, a more British pedigree. Though tickets cost a lot more than tuppence on its London opening in 2004, the musical transferred to Broadway two years later and ran for 2,619 performances. Penning the book was none other than Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

There've been failures too. Despite the enormous success of Disney's animated film The Little Mermaid based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale–and despite the presence of the song "Under the Sea," my favorite Disney tune of all time(music by, of course, Alan Menken)–the Disney Theatricals musical didn't have its predecessors' staying power. That's not to say it tanked, exactly; after a delayed opening in January 2008 it ran for more than a year and a half. That that's considered a failure just shows you the sad side of Broadway, where a musical needs to be a multi-year blockbuster to make enough money to be considered a success.

Worse yet was the fate of Tarzan: The Musical. With a score by Phil Collins (not Alan Menken--is there a lesson there?) it opened in 2006 and soldiered on for just over a year.

As I write this Disney has three paws on Broadway. Joining the ongoing reign of Lion King are Newsies and the new Aladdin, both with music by--surprise!--Alan Menken. Champing at the bit in out of town productions is The Jungle Book, and on the drawing board: an adaptation of Disney's hit movie Frozen, which will come already complete with a hit song, "Let It Go," popularized by Broadway diva Idina Menzel, now more famous than ever since the infamous John Travolta name flub on the Oscars broadcast. I wonder. Could the "flub" have been intentional? A Disney-engineered marketing plot for the upcoming Broadway extravaganza on ice? Shiver to think.

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TagsDisney on Broadway, disney, Idina Menzel, Alan Menken, Frozen, Aladdin, Newsies, Lion King