Okay. You probably have already heard that the news about how Disney Theatrical plans on bringing "Tarzan" to Broadway next season. But the big question is: Where?
As of yesterday, this production -- which is to be directed & designed by Bob Crowley (the same gentleman who directed & designed Disney's "Aida," as well as the recently opened London production of the "Mary Poppins" stage musical) -- doesn't actually have a home to call its own on the Great White Way. All that Disney's PR flaks would say at this point was that "Tarzan" would be swinging into " ... a theatre to be announced."
Ah, but behind the scenes, a lot of people are talking. Not just about where "Tarzan" expects to land. But also where Disney Theatrical expects to place the two other Broadway-bound shows that this division of the Mouse House currently has on its schedule and/or in serious development.
First up -- of course -- is "Tarzan." Which current scuttlebutt suggests that this show (following an eight-week-long out-of-town try-out in Boston) will eventually be setting up shop in the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th Street. Opening (not-so-co-incidentally) just in time to qualify for next year's Tonys.
Now where this gets interesting is that the Richard Rodgers is currently occupied by "Movin' Out," the Tony Award winning Twyla Tharp dance extravaganza that's based on the song catalog of Billy Joel. And -- as of this date, anyway -- no one associated with that production has said anything to suggest that that show is soon slated to shutter.
That said, there has still been an awful lot of talk lately about how "Movin' Out" will be moving out of the Rodgers no later than January 1st. How Disney Theatrical now supposedly has a handshake deal with the Nederlander Organization (I.E. The folks who actually owns & operates this Broadway house). Which will then allow the Mouse's tech team enough time to make $10 milllion worth of "improvements" to the theatre's interior. Repairs and renovations that are said to be absolutely essential, given the amount of flying & vine swinging that's going to occur in "Tarzan."
Speaking of which ... How exactly does Disney Theatrical plan on recreating all of that tree surfing & vine hanging that made the company's 1999 animated version of "Tarzan" so memorable? Particularly inside of a Broadway theatre?
The answer lies with Pichon Baldinu of De La Guarda fame. Disney has hired Baldinu to handle what "Tarzan" 's production team is euphamistically calling "aerial movement." But -- believe you me, folks -- what the Mouse has in mind here is NOT the "Flying by Foy" wirework that Cathy Rigby typically does.
Trust me, people. Go check out the De La Guarda website. Then you'll actually get a sense of the sort of aerial assault "Tarzan" audience members can expect next year. Particularly when they sit in the orchestra section.
Anyway ... Given that "Tarzan" 's creative team recently held auditions for this show at the 37th Street Theatre, we can probably expect an official announcement of who's playing what role in this production on or about Labor Day. With preliminary rehearsals & set construction to begin sometime in the fall.
"But ... But ... But," I hear you sputter. "What about 'Mary Poppins'? I thought that that was supposed to be the next based-on-a-movie musical that Disney Theatrical would be bringing to Broadway."
Well, to be honest, Disney Company management reportedly has some rather serious concerns about this show. About whether American audiences will actually be willing to embrace the London stage version of "Poppins" (Which -- FYI -- is actually a co-production with Cameron Mackintosh), given how much that particular production departs from the well-known storyline of the much beloved 1964 Academy Award winning film.
You see, the London stage version of "Mary Poppins" hues a whole lot closer to the style & tone of P.L. Travers' original books. Which were rather dark & quirky. Which has Mouse House managers wondering whether -- in order to make this show more palatable to the tourist trade (I.E. Those nice folks who have kept the Broadway version of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" running for over 11 years now) -- they may need to significantly lighten up the London version of this show if "Mary Poppins" is supposed to become the company's next "Lion King" -sized hit.
Speaking of which ... Another reason that "Mary Poppins" is approaching Broadway at a slower-than-expected pace is that Disney Theatrical still isn't sure which theatre it will place this production in yet. Depending on who you talk to within that orgainzation, there are all sorts of scenarios floating around right now.
One calls for "Poppins" to eventually land at the Palace Theatre. Which -- not-so-co-incidentally -- is also owned by the Nederlander Organization. Given that the Broadway versions of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" and "Aida" both previously occupied this house, Disney Theatrical is already very familiar with the Palace. Particularly all the free publicity that a show gets when it occupies this theatre, thanks to the Palace's primo location (I.E. On the corner of Broadway & 46th St. Right at the edge of Times Square).
Of course, the only problem with that scenario is that the Palace is currently occupied by "All Shook Up," that new musical that's built around the Elvis Presley song catalog. Given that this show got fairly middling reviews when it opened back in March of this year, no one expects "All Shook Up" to still be running when 2007 rolls around. Which is supposedly when "Mary Poppins" will finally be flying into NYC to take up residence on Broadway. But you never know ...
Mind you, another supposed scenario has "The Lion King" eventually vacating the New Amsterdam, then possibly setting up shop over at the Hilton (which is currently occupied by "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") or the Minskoff (Which that revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" which stars Harvey Fierstein is currently playing). Which would then leave the New Amsterdam available for "Mary Poppins."
Now -- as if this situation weren't already complicated enough -- let's keep in mind that Disney Theatrical recently revealed that they just approved the book that Doug Wright (I.E. The author of the Tony Award winning "I Am My Own Wife") has written for the long-in-development stage version of "The Little Mermaid." And -- given that Francesca Zambello (I.E. The woman who directed DCA's "Aladdin -- A Musical Spectacular") has already been hired to direct this musical ...
Well, one wonders -- given all the creative challenges that the Broadway version of "Mary Poppins" is reportedly currently facing -- whether "Tarzan" will be followed (in the 2006-2007 season, mind you) by "Little Mermaid." With "Mary Poppins" 's Broadway debut then getting pushed back to 2008.
Now please keep in mind that this is still a fairly fluid situation. That things can -- and will -- change. Sometimes virtually overnight. Remember, it wasn't all that long ago that Disney Theatrical announced plans to produce shows based on such Touchstone Pictures' releases as "Tin Men" and "The Dead Poets Society." And nothing ever became of these proposed shows. Or -- better yet -- how about "Hoopz," the musical that the Mouse was supposed to produce that was going to be based on the story of the Harlem Globetrotters? When's the last time you heard about anything about Disney's basketball-based musical?
More importantly, just because a new Disney Theatrical show actually goes into production doesn't automatically mean that it's then eventually going to turn up on Broadway. Don't believe me? Then ask the cast on Disney's due-to-close-on-the-road "On the Record." Or -- better yet -- talk with the cast of "Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida." Only two members of the original cast of the Alliance Theatre version of "Aida" (I.E. Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott) actually made it out of Egypt ... er ... Atlanta. The rest of the company, as well as much of the show's creative team, got sacked.
So please keep in mind that -- when it comes to theater -- there's no such thing as a sure thing. Even when you're able to put the "Disney" name on your show, that still doesn't guarantee that your show will automatically be a hit.
Speaking of the Disney name ... Did you see that announcement last week about the "Sister Act" musical? How Peter Schneider, the former head of Disney Feature Animation, will be directing and co-producing this show? More importantly, that "Mermaid/Beast/Aladdin" composer Alan Menken and his "Home on the Range" collaborator Glen Slater would be writing "Sister Act" 's score, while Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (AKA the husband & wife team behind Disney's "Teacher's Pet") will be churning out the show's book?
So let's review here: We have a new musical based on a 1992 Touchstone Pictures release. More importantly, this show is going to be directed by the former head of Disney Feature Animation and feature a book, music & lyrics that are written by lots of folks who previously worked for Disney. But did you notice that the "Disney Theatrical" name is nowhere to be seen on this project?
Well, there's a season for that. Disney Theatrical isn't actually producing this "Sister Act" musical. The Walt Disney Company (in exchange for a certain percentage of profits from this production) has agreed to license the stage rights for this Touchstone Pictures release to Mr. Schneider and his production partners, Michael Reno and Albert Poland.
Mind you, this isn't the first time that the Mouse has done this. As in: Allowed an outside production company to license the rights to a Disney-owned film so that they could then change that property into a musical for the stage. Just last year, Mickey gave the producers of the Tony Award winning "Avenue Q" the theatrical rights to "High Fidelity." You know, that March 2000 Touchstone Pictures release that starred John Cusack and Jack Black? The Stephen Fears film that was based on Nick Hornby's novel?
Then when you factor in the backing that the Walt Disney Company reportedly put into the the Broadway productions of "Mamma Mia" and "Spamalot" ... Well, you can see why it's starting to get a little difficult to keep track of what exactly is a Disney Theatrical Production and what isn't.
But -- either way -- we can expect this division of the Disney corporation to really kick into gear over the next year or so. With the current plan being that Disney Theatrical will bring at least one brand new show to Broadway each year for the next three years. With the Mouse constantly keeping an eye on the market, to see if there's actually an appetite out there for this much Disney-produced theatrical product.
So what do you folks think? Is there really a large enough theatre-going audience to support a new Disney show debuting on Broadway ever year for the next three seasons? Or is that just too many Mouse-based musicals?