This year marks the 20th anniversary of Disney Theatrical Group, created in 1994 by Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner, Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher. The latter serves today as President and Producer (and face) of the division and can be found most days in his Producer’s office above Disney’s New Amsterdam Theatre (currently home to ‘Aladdin’) on Broadway.
Looking back at the company’s 20 year history, you can’t argue the fact that its success rate far outweighs its flops, and although Schumacher and his crew have had to swallow more than their fair share of criticism from theatre purists claiming Disney is responsible for the ‘theme-parkification’ of Broadway, their contribution in appealing to wider audiences has been outstanding.
As a huge fan of both animation and theatre, I, for one, love experiencing how Disney’s animated classics are adapted for the stage. In the case of DTG’s biggest breadwinner to date, of course I’m speaking about the Tony Award-winning, Julie Taymor-helmed musical of ‘The Lion King’, Disney has revelled in both commercial and creative glory. With a global yield of $6.2 billion (and counting), it is the highest grossing musical of all time, and the way in which the animals of the African Pridelands are brought to life on stage through puppetry, masks and costumes, caught the whole Broadway community off-guard, as the show premiered in 1997.
The rest of DTG’s back catalogue includes successful outings of its inaugural production ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the Cameron Mackintosh co-production of ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Aida’, ‘Newsies’, and the “surprise hit of the season” ‘Aladdin’, along with a couple of less succesful productions, such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Tarzan’ (although the latter has enjoyed great success in Germany since 2008).
And with plenty of shows in the pipeline, DTG shows no signs of slowing down. Schumacher has announced stage adaptations in development for ‘The Muppets’, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘Father of the Bride’, and the latest animated mega-hit ‘Frozen’. Besides these, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ will be staged at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego from 26th October, and Schumacher even hinted during a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, that since Disney’s acquisition of both Marvel and Lucas Film, they are also looking into exploiting those properties for live events. ‘X-Men: The Musical’ anyone? Or how about seeing Star Wars or Indiana Jones on stage?
My only gripe with Disney Theatrical Group is the fact that they have only ever launched two of their shows in London. This is also mainly due to the fact that both of these shows were co-productions with very successful British producers: ‘Mary Poppins’ with Cameron Mackintosh and the current West End production of ‘Shakespeare In Love’ with Sonia Friedman. I wish DTG would ‘try out’ more shows in London. Often, we wait to see whether we will get a Broadway transfer of a show (or not), depending on how well it does on the Great White Way. The only two shows that successfully transferred to the West End were ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which played for over two and a half years at the Dominion Theatre, and ‘The Lion King’ now in its 14th year at the Lyceum Theatre.
DTG already has a UK office, more than capable of producing top shows in the West End, and there are so many Disney properties which I feel would be more suited to launch in London. I believe it would be a fantastic way to drum up some hype and whet the appetite of the Broadway audiences. ‘The Muppets’, for example, historically got their first big break in the UK and not in America. Why not let history repeat itself with their first staged musical? Also, Quasimodo and friends already premiered in Berlin from 1999 to 2002 as ‘Der Glöckner von Notre Dame’, wouldn’t this very European show be better off launching (again) in Europe? And I would love to see a London stage adaptation of the London-based animated classic ‘101 Dalmatians’!
So, in closing, Mr Schumacher, if you are reading this ;-) Please don’t forget about your friends here, over the pond. When will we have another big Disney World Premiere in the Big Smoke?