Major Attaway as Genie, Caissie Levy as Elsa & Jelani Remy as Simba

From Beauty and the Beast to Frozen - A Brief History of Disney on Broadway

We take a look back at the 24-year history of Disney Theatrical in celebration of the official Broadway opening of Frozen...

Tom Millward
Tom Millward

As the snow storm lifts in New York City and the icy temperatures (rather fittingly) welcome the official Broadway opening of Disney's Frozen at the St. James Theatre tonight, we thought we would take a look back at the epic journey of Disney Theatrical and the company's evolution in establishing itself as a critically-acclaimed Broadway powerhouse.

Terrence Mann & Susan Egan in Beauty and the Beast
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

"Be Our Guest" may have been the name of the grandest, show-stopping musical number in Disney's Theatrical inaugural production as Beauty and the Beast officially opened at Broadway's Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994, but it has been well-documented that the company was regarded as anything but a welcomed guest to the Great White Way by rival Broadway producers and purists at the time. From the beginning, the challenge was set to gain acceptance from the very community it was striving to be a part of. Although Beauty and the Beast was an incredible commercial hit for the company, some critics remained dubious of Disney's future on the Great White Way and at the 48th Annual Tony Awards in 1994, although receiving nine nominations, the musical only succeeded in winning the "Best Costume Design" category and lost out to Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine's Passion in the "Best Musical" category. Nevertheless, Beauty and the Beast would go on to enjoy a run of over 13 years on Broadway, transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in November 1999 and finally closing, after a total of 5461 performances, on July 29, 2007.

In May 1995, Disney Theatrical signed a 49-year revenue based lease for the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway which would later also become the home of its corporate headquarters. After an extensive renovation, the theatre was re-opened in May 1997 with a concert staging of Alan Menken & Tim Rice's new musical King David, playing for nine performances and making way for what was to be a landmark and crucial production in the history of Disney Theatrical...

The Company of The Lion King
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Disney's The Lion King roared onto the Broadway scene and officially opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997, boasting the timeless songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. The show provided a turning point for the company as it was showered with critical acclaim due to its imaginative costumes, staging and its uniquely theatrical experience - largely thanks to director and costume designer Julie Taymor. She went on to scoop two Tony Awards in those respective categories whilst The Lion King was also crowned a Tony Award-winning Best Musical in 1998. The Broadway production moved to its current home of the Minskoff Theatre in June 2006, where it still plays today to full houses eight times a week. Not only is the musical the third longest-running show in Broadway history (behind The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago), but it is also the top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films.

Disney's The Lion King Tickets are available now for performances through to August 12, 2018.

Michael Arden and the Company of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(Photo by Jerry Dalia)

In 1999, Disney Theatrical launched its first world premiere production outside of the US, as The Hunchback of Notre Dame was adapted for the stage. With a much darker and gothic tone, Der Glöckner von Notre Dame premiered in Berlin and ran successfully through to 2002. More recently, a brand new English-language production premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego from October 28 through to December 7, 2014 which later transferred to the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in from March 4 through April 5, 2015, directed by Scott Schwartz and starring a magnificently moving Michael Arden as Quasimodo. Although a Broadway transfer was decided against, the production returned to Berlin in 2017 (where its life on stage was born), before moving to Munich and can now be seen in Stuttgart.

Heather Headley and the Company of Aida
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Disney Theatrical's next Broadway outing strayed away from its successful animation-to-stage formula, but kept a number of familiar and crucial key ingredients. The Broadway premiere of Aida saw Disney collaborating once again with composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice as well as leading actress Heather Headley, following the astronomical success of The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King alum Linda Woolverton was once again hired to write the book. Based on Giuseppe Verdi's opera, Aida officially opened at the Palace Theatre on March 23, 200 and proved to be an unlikely hit for the company, scooping four Tony Awards (including "Best Original Musical Score") and running for a total of 1852 performances through to September 5, 2004. Some might say its success was "Written in the Stars"...

Ashley Brown, Alexander Scheitinger, Katherine Leigh Doherty & Gavin Lee in Mary Poppins
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

After years of stalemate, top producer Cameron Mackintosh (who possessed the stage rights) and Disney Theatrical's president Thomas Schumacher (who owned the rights to the songs from the iconic 1964 Disney film) finally came together to co-produce the world premiere of Mary Poppins. After a tryout at the Bristol Hippodrome in the UK, the show premiered in the West End and opened on December 15, 2004, with leading actress Laura Michelle Kelly receiving an Olivier Award for her interpretation of the title character. The show would inevitably move to Broadway, where it officially opened at Disney's New Amsterdam Theatre on November 16, 2006. Bob Crowley's stunning, Tony Award-winning set design was a marvel to behold as was the spectacle of Broadway's original cast member Ashley Brown flying over the heads of the audience in the auditorium (with her umbrella in hand) and theatre fans flocked to see Mary Poppins until it closed on March 3, 2013, after 2619 performances and a "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" Broadway run.

Jenn Gambatese & Josh Strickland in Tarzan
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

On May 10, 2006, Disney's Tarzan swung into the Richard Rodgers Theatre and officially opened on the Great White Way. Featuring daring aerial acrobatics and an extended score by Phil Collins, who originally provided songs such as "Two Worlds" and "You'll Be in My Heart" for the 1999 animated classic, the stage musical starred Josh Strickland in the title role. Although Tarzan proved not to be a commerical success for the company in New York, closing on July 8, 2007, it has since become an international hit and is currently still enjoying a phenomenal run in Germany, where it is set to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.

Sierra Boggess in The Little Mermaid
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

In November 2007, it was time for Disney Theatrical to take audiences "Under the Sea" with a stage adaptation of the hit 1989 animated classic The Little Mermaid, which officially opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on January 10, 2008. Many of the performers wore "heelys" to create the gliding, underwater effect on stage and fans, in particular, praised stage veteran Sherie Rene Scott's deliciously camp portrayal of the villainous Ursula, but it sadly wasn't enough to give the show more of a longevity and a Broadway closure was announced for August 30, 2009.

Jeremy Jordan in Newsies
(Photo by Deen van Meer)

Disney Theatrical's next big hit may have even caught them by surprise. The 1992 live-action film Newsies proved to be a box office flop but evolved to become a cult favorite among musical fans, who for years made their cries for a stage adaptation loud enough for Disney Theatrical to take note. Initially intended just as a regional run at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in the fall of 2011, the buzz around the production was so momentous that Disney decided to bring the show into town and Newsies began a Broadway run at the Nederlander Theatre on March 15, 2012. The production also garnered Disney legend and composer Alan Menken his first and (to date) only Tony Award to add to his plethora of accolades. The growing fanbase warranted that the initial limited engagement was replaced with an open-ended engagement and the musical finally culminated on August 24, 2014 with a total of 1004 performances on the Great White Way. In February and March of last year, the filmed stage production was released in cinemas internationally to the delight of "fansies" everywhere.

James Monroe Iglehart in Aladdin
(Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Following the non-musical co-production ventures of Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway from 2012 to 2013 and Shakespeare in Love in London's West End from 2014 to 2015, Disney Theatrical would once again return to its cherished library of animated classics from its Disney Renaissance era. After tryouts in Seattle and Toronto, the magic carpet finally landed in New York and Aladdin officially opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on March 20, 2014 and quickly became a box office smash. Broadway fans were especially enamored with original cast member James Monroe Iglehart's Tony Award-winning interpretation of Genie (immortalized in the animated classic by the late Robin Williams) and the production continues to regularly play to sold-out houses today. "Proud of Your Boy," Mr. Schumacher? We think so.

Disney's Aladdin Tickets are available now for performances through to August 12, 2018.

Caissie Levy in Frozen
(Photo by Deen van Meer)

And that brings us finally to tonight's official Broadway opening of Disney's Frozen. After the unprecedented success of the 2013 movie, which went on to become the highest-grossing animated feature ever, it was only a matter of time before Disney Theatrical would announce a Broadway stage adaptation. Following positive reviews from its Denver tryout from August 17 to October 1, 2017, it was full steam ahead to Broadway for one of the most eagerly anticipated openings of the season. Under the direction of Michael Grandage and boasting majestic costumes and scenic design by Christopher Oram, the kingdom of Arendelle looks set to settle in for a long stay on the Great White Way, as Broadway fans look forward to a deeper telling of the fragile bond between the two sisters, Elsa and Anna, and a whole new set of songs by Oscar winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to accompany the familar numbers of "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?," "Love is an Open Door," and, of course, "Let it Go".

Disney's Frozen Tickets are available now for performances through to December 30, 2018.

We hope you've enjoyed our whirlwind journey through the history of Disney Theatrical on Broadway, taking a trip down memory lane and experiencing one of Broadway's ultimate producing powerhouses anew. And with three box office smashes currently playing on the Great White Way, the mouse's theatrical future is certainly looking bright...     

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