Sometimes, you just have to admire the chutzpah of the folks running Disney Theatrical.
I mean, here they are. Their next musical, "Tarzan," doesn't even open at the Richard Rogers Theater 'til May 9th of next year. But these guys are already hard at work on the musical that they'll open after that. And the musical after that. And the musical after that.
Of course, what will help make this somewhat strange situation easier to deal with is that the very next show that Disney Theatrical intends to bring to Broadway isn't actually a new show. But -- rather -- it will be the initial American production of an already established hit from the London stage, "Mary Poppins." Which Disney co-produced with Cameron Mackintosh last year.
Now where this all gets interesting is that Disney Theatrical wants to put "Mary Poppins" in their flagship theater, the New Amsterdam. Which is where their Tony Award winner, "The Lion King," is still (after eight years of performances) still playing to packed houses.
"So if 'Mary Poppins' is moving into the New Amsterdam, where is 'The Lion King' going to go?," you ask. Simple. By the summer of next year, "The Lion King" will (With much accompanying hoopla. Expect the publicity campaign to prominently feature the phrase: "The pride is on the move") will be moving to the Minskoff Theater. Which is where that revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" which stars Harvey Fierstein & Rosie O'Donnell is currently being presented.
"Fiddler" is already scheduled to close on January 8, 2006. Once that musical's sets are struck, the Minskoff will undergo several months of extensive renovations to get this 32-year-old theater ready for "Lion King" 's transfer. Once that work is complete, Disney will shutter "The Lion King" for a four-to-six week period. During which Julie Taymor's signature sets, props and costumes will be transferred from the New Amsterdam to the Minskoff.
Once that move is completed and "The Lion King" has a lavish re-opening at the Minskoff (Also with much accompanying hoopla. Expect the publicity campaign for this event to prominently feature the phrase: "The king has returned"), then Disney Theatrical will turn its attention toward getting the New Amsterdam ready for the arrival of "Mary Poppins."
According to unnamed sources inside Disney Theatrical, the U.S. version of "Mary Poppins" could (in theory) begin entertaining audiences as early as October of next year. Though the show's official opening wouldn't be held until after several weeks of preview performances had been held to work out all the kinks.
Speaking of working out all the kinks ... Industry insiders don't know quite what to make of Disney's decision not to take "Tarzan" out-of-town for a try-out. From a financial point-of-view, it certainly makes sense. Given what it would have cost to truck all of Pichon Baldinu's flying rigs back and forth to Boston.
But the only problem with doing six weeks of previews in New York is all those prying eyes. As in: Broadway insiders who will attend early performances of "Tarzan" and then go home and post their opinions of the show on www.talkinbroadway.com. This is the one aspect of staying in town that actually concerns the folks at Disney Theatrical. That the catty crew over at All That Chat might get some bad buzz going about the show while "Tarzan" 's creative team is still working out the kinks. And should the mainstream press pick up on these rumors ... Well, that might result in "Tarzan" becoming another long running Broadway hit that "The Lion King" and "Beauty & the Beast."
Speaking of long running shows: As of today Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" has racked up a total of 4692 performances. Making it the sixth longest running show in Broadway history. Given that this musical has long since recovered its original production costs (More importantly, because of the truly sweet deal that Disney Theatrical cut with the Nederlander Organization for the use of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), Disney is looking to keep "Beauty" alive for at least another couple of years. With the hope that "Beast" will eventually be able to blow past shows No. 4 & 5 on Broadway's longest running list.
Mind you, in order to do this, Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" will have to run for at least another 3 1/2 years in order to pass the 1976 revival of "Old Calcutta" (Which eventually racked up 5959 performances) as well as the original production of "A Chorus Line" (Which closed at the Shubert Theatre after 6137 performances).
And -- by then -- Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" will probably be joined by stage versions of two other Disney animated films, "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin."
Speaking of "The Little Mermaid" : Earlier this year, Disney Theatrical hired Doug Wright (I.E. The Tony Award-winning author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "I Am My Own Wife") to write a new book for the stage version of "The Little Mermaid." Back in May of this year, Wright's new version of the script was finally approved for production.
"So what happens next?," you ask. Well, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater are reportedly working at adapting the score that Menken & the late Howard Ashman wrote for the 1989 animated version of "The Little Mermaid." So that these songs will now work in context with Wright's new book. Plus -- to supplement the film's original score -- Menken & Slater have reportedly an additional 11 numbers for the stage version of "The Little Mermaid."
Once all the book and score-related issues are finally dealt with, Francesca Zambello (best known to Disneyana fans as the woman who directed "Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" for DCA's Hyperion Theater) will reportedly direct the stage version of "The Little Mermaid." Which is expected to arrive on Broadway during the 2007-2008 season. After "Tarzan" and "Mary Poppins," respectively.
"And after that?," you query. Well, as part of the advance publicity for "The Wedding Singer" (I.E. The new Broadway musical that's based on the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy), it was revealed that Chad Beguelin -- the talented young author who's writing both the book & the lyrics for "Wedding" -- has been hired by Disney Theatrical to write the book for a proposed Broadway version of "Aladdin."
So come the 2008-2009, it may not be just Tarzan and Mary Poppins who are flying through the air, thrilling theater-goers. Aladdin and his magic flying carpet may soon be zooming out over the orchestra pit.
But -- for now -- Disney Theatrical's got to concentrate on properly launching the project that's at hand. So look for that arm of the Walt Disney Company to hold a press conference early next month to introduce the full cast of the Broadway version of "Tarzan." Look for Disney to use this same press event to hype the fact that individual tickets for "Tarzan" go on sale on November 20th.
One final warning about this new Disney Theatrical show: You may want to move quickly if you're looking to secure tickets for "Tarzan." Disney has already made this show available for group sales. And -- as of today -- over $10 million worth of seats for this show have already been sold.
And given that the Broadway version of "Tarzan" is allegedly costing Disney Theatrical around $10 million to produce ... Well, this may be the very first time that a show will actually in the black before it opens on Broadway.