Disney on Broadway

Categories: Beauty And The Beast

For most, when they hear the name Broadway, their mind instantly jumps to the great classics. Tunes from The Sound of Music may begin to chime in their head or the epic rock anthems from Rent may ignite that nineties rebel flame they now have buried deep in their heart.

For others, the most popular productions of the last decade such as Lin Manuel Miranda's hit show, Hamilton, or the unofficial prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked, may pop to mind.

However, it is easy for many people to forget about a powerhouse that has been turning out hit show after hit show for the past few decades, Disney.

The company that once stuck strictly to the big screen and Hollywood red carpets, made its way over to the streets of New York City. This move, created a partnership of sorts with the Broadway. A partnership that would come to change both Disney and Broadway forever.

While most would believe that Disney and Broadway's relationship would have started when the movie-mogul first came to the big apple, their courtship with one another actually begins before the move.

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In the PBS show "Broadway: The American Musical" the beginning of this relationship between the two is explained in a very surprising light.

The show explains that "after more than a decade of lackluster films," Disney was desperate to land a hit, so, the company turned to the musical talents of Broadway lyricists and composers to assist (31:32).

Disney even began to adapt their storytelling to mirror what was being done on the Broadway stages.

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While this may have been seen as a gamble at the time, led to instant classic films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Both of which, transitioned into mega-successful Broadway musicals.

With this initial courtship between Broadway writers and Disney filmmakers being so greatly successful, Disney wanted to take it to the next level. In "Broadway: The American Musical," Disney's Michael Eisner explains that after the success of the animated film, Beauty and the Beast, for the first time, the company saw opportunity on the New York City stages.

Eisner explains this decision in the episode, saying "You know what, why don't we give it a shot? And the whole thing kind of fit together in a Disneyesque way." However, despite Disney's confidence, the temperature from critics in New York City was much more lukewarm.

In a 1994 New York Times Article entitled "Theater; Is Disney the Newest Broadway Baby?" the author, Alex Witchel, questions whether or not the theater community will embrace the company with open arms or leave them with empty seats.

Witchel begs the question writing, "It is the oldest tradition in the theater to giveth with one hand and clubbeth with the other, and this year is no different. Broadway is finding that it loves to love Disney. But it still can't help hating itself in the morning." However, despite the critical thought process Witchel demonstrates in his article, it turns out that just two days later, the New York Times will be shouting "Be Our Guest" to more Disney shows.

In a New York Times article entitled "Beauty and the Beast; Disney Does Broadway, Dancing Spoons and All" published only two days after Witchel's article, David Richards gives the musical a splendid review. Richards explains seeing the show for the first time by saying "You don't watch it, you gape at it.

While Richards explained that in comparison to other Broadway shows vetting for theatre-goers attention, Beauty and the Beast doesn't have the same depth and natural artistry in terms of storyline as some other productions.

However, Beauty and the Beast instead out-performs other Broadway shows at this time by the sheer amount of production that goes into the entire performance. Richards explains this phenomenon by saying "no apparition, disappearance, thunderbolt, rainstorm or swirling fog bank is beyond the capabilities of the show's special-effects engineers."

Now, with a blockbuster production in the books for Disney, Broadway became the animated-movie-giant's playground. Combined with having a plethora of successful films in its arsenal and some street cred in the Big Apple, Disney could now begin to set its sight on more daring stories.

As opposed to their first crack at the stage, where Disney pumped funding into a "Tale as Old as Time" that they knew audiences would come from far and wide to swoon over. This time, Disney locked sight on a new excursion, the plains of Africa.

Disney's announcement that they were bringing the hit animated film, The Lion King, to the Broadway stage brought shock to many. In a Variety article, author Gordon Cox recalls this time by saying "industry skepticism was high."

Questions of whether or not Disney would be able to pull off a show where quite literally all of the characters are animals without making the show strictly about the gimmick arose in many people's heads. However, in 1997 when The Lion King finally hit the stage, these questions were met with shockingly positive answers.

Disney's Broadway production of The Lion King hit the stage and made waves in all things theater. The New York Time's, Ben Brantley, described opening night of the show by saying "Where are you, really, anyway? The location is supposed to be a theater on 42d Street, a thoroughfare that has never been thought of as a gateway to Eden.

After opening night of the show, it became clear that Disney did it once again. The company proved that despite people's expectations of what they would be able to achieve, they delivered classic Disney magic. Brantley goes on to explain that in his opinion, Disney's production of The Lion King was leaps and bounds ahead of its time than Beauty and the Beast. Brantley explains The Lion King's impact on theater by saying that it "introduced a whole new vocabulary of images to the Broadway blockbuster."

Flashing forward two-decades, it is easy to forget when Broadway and Disney came into one another's lives. Today, almost all of Disney's original animated films follow the standard Broadway storytelling approach. Each of these films, filled with charismatic characters, singing and dancing their way through their stories.

Meanwhile, on the Broadway stages, many of Disney's past cinematic pride and joys are living out their second lives. Movies from The Little Mermaid, to Tarzan, and even the recent hit-film Frozen have all been adapted to shine on the stages of Broadway.

Now in hindsight it's clear, both Broadway and Disney really need each other. Broadway gives Disney the influence to turn-out hit-film after hit-film and in turn, once the films begin to collect dust on their DVD cases, they head for the bright lights of the Big Apple, giving Broadway it's time to shine.


  1. Cox, Gordon. "How 'The Lion King' Ushered in the Era of the Blockbuster on Broadway." Variety. 14 Nov. 2017. Variety. 31 Mar. 2019.
  2. "Episode 6." Broadway: The American Musical. PBS, 2004, DVD.
  3. Fierberg, Ruthie. "How Disney Shows Are Changing the Landscape of the American Musical Theatre." Playbill. 10 Aug. 2018. PLAYBILL INC. 31 Mar. 2019.
  4. Richards, David. "Review/Theater: Beauty and the Beast; Disney Does Broadway, Dancing Spoons and All." The New York Times. 19 Apr. 1994. The New York Times. 31 Mar. 2019.
  5. Witchel, Alex. "THEATER; Is Disney the Newest Broadway Baby?" The New York Times. 17 Apr. 1994. The New York Times. 31 Mar. 2019.
Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Disney on Broadway. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/disney-on-broadway-essay

Disney on Broadway essay
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