Group: Disney EchoEar Grand Mouseter/AdministratEAR
Joined: Aug. 2001
||Posted: Nov. 29, 2003 2:16 am/pm
Mary Poppins, Tarzan, and The Little Mermaid: Having Reshaped Broadway, Disney Readies a Second Act
The Walt Disney Company, with three hits already on Broadway, is preparing a second, even more ambitious assault.
The company has another three musicals nearing production, each based on a Disney movie. Having already changed Broadway, Disney may soon dominate it, with possibly as many as six musicals running simultaneously.
The most anticipated and potentially lucrative is "Mary Poppins," based on the classic P. L. Travers children's books and the 1964 movie version that starred Julie Andrews as a high-flying, umbrella-toting, chore-dispensing governess.
Disney officials, led by Thomas Schumacher, president of the company's theatrical division, have high hopes for "Poppins," which some on Broadway believe could match "The Lion King," which has grossed more than $300 million at the New Amsterdam Theater since its opening in 1997 and more than $1 billion worldwide.
"It's a beloved movie, just as `The Lion King' was a beloved piece and `Beauty and the Beast' was, and the creative talents involved are prodigious," said Gerald Schoenfeld, the chairman of the Shubert Organization, Broadway's biggest landlord. "I'll tell you something: if this show is a hit in London, it will be off the charts here."
Now Disney is gearing up for "Poppins." The show, which has begun casting in London, is due to open there in December 2004. It is being produced in conjunction with the British impresario Cameron Mackintosh and has a distinguished creative team, including the director Richard Eyre (formerly the artistic director of the Royal National Theater), the choreographer Matthew Bourne (hairy-chested version of "Swan Lake") and the ubiquitous Broadway designer Bob Crowley ("Aida," "Invention of Love").
Disney is also working on musical productions of "Tarzan," which could arrive as soon as spring 2005, and "The Little Mermaid," which is tentatively scheduled for 2007.
The man at the heart of the Disney operation is Mr. Schumacher, a boyish 45-year-old who stepped down from his position as president of the studio's animation division last December to concentrate his energies on Disney's theatrical projects.
"Our interest in `Mary Poppins' is based both on the enduring appeal of the fantastic books by P. L. Travers and Walt's wonderful film," Mr. Schumacher wrote in a recent e-mail message. "Our job, and the job of our great collaborators, is obviously a daunting one."
"Poppins," however, is just the beginning.
Like "Lion King," "Beauty" and "Aida," before them, "Tarzan" and "Mermaid" have pop music composers. "Tarzan," which was an animated hit for Disney in 1999 with a score by the pop star Phil Collins, had a weeklong workshop in August and has another workshop planned for January. Its creative team includes Mr. Crowley, who is directing and designing, and Meryl Tankard, an Australian choreographer perhaps best known as the lead dancer for the experimental German choreographer Pina Bausch. The playwright David Henry Hwang is doing the book. Disney officials have already begun scouting Las Vegas and other circus hot spots for acrobatic experts; "Tarzan," after all, involves much advanced swinging.
The stage version of "The Little Mermaid" is being composed by Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast"). The project is close to the heart of the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, who has listened to the score during several private meetings at Mr. Menken's Midtown apartment. Several other projects, including "On the Record," a stage revue of Disney songs, are also in the works for the road and possible Broadway runs.
But "Poppins" is the crown jewel, a project that has been in development, both at Disney and in Mr. Mackintosh's office, for almost 10 years. The partnership was an act of necessity; Mr. Mackintosh held the stage rights to the original books (there were eight), while Disney holds the movie rights and its Oscar-winning score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman.
The stage production will differ somewhat from the movie, Mr. Mackintosh said, with new songs and several new stories from the books. The principal challenge, he said, will be to balance people's memories with the demands of the stage. "It's absolutely the thing that we have to be most brave about," Mr. Mackintosh said. "We must not disappoint people, but the best way to do that is to reinvent the thing they love."
That process has already begun; casting in London is nearing completion, with early reports that the British actress Laura-Michelle Kelly (who gained good reviews as Eliza in "My Fair Lady" in London) is a leading candidate for the title role.
Mr. Schumacher, ever cautious, wouldn't comment on the cast — or the cost, though Mr. Mackintosh said the London production is likely to cost from $8.5 million to $12 million.
Both men were also careful not to sound cocky about a production that many on Broadway agree could land supercalifragilisticexpialidociously.
"We've not talked publicly in detail about what we are doing with the material, and I think I'll let that stand," Mr. Schumacher wrote in a message. "As for why other people like it, that's for them to tell you."