Disney Confirms “Frozen” Stage Musical in Development

Bobby Lopez Returns to Broadway with a Screen Success

Bobby Lopez, the co-songwriter of the 2013 smash hit Disney film Frozen, is no stranger to Broadway.  He made a name for himself when he co-wrote the raunchy puppet musical Avenue Q, which won the 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical as well as Best Original Score.  In an even more stupendous success, he followed that show by co-writing The Book of Mormon along with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  The Book of Mormon, which also won the Tony Awards for Best Musical as well as Best Original Score, has been playing a sold-out run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre since March 2011, and it remains an extremely tough ticket to this day.  Unlike many Broadway composers, however, Lopez did not keep his sights set on the stage only.  After a few other ventures into screen composing, Bobby, along with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, scored the gig to write songs for the 2003 Disney film Frozen.  In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Frozen was also awarded the honor of Best Original Song, written by the Lopez duo, which was “Let It Go” sung by Broadway favorite Idina Menzel.

“Frozen” Stage Musical in Early Stages of Development

frozen movie posterIn January of this year, it was announced that Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are in the early stages of adapting Frozen to become a stage musical.  Disney has had many stage hits in the recent past, including The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and the newly running Aladdin.  The film Frozen includes eight original songs by the husband and wife team, and presumably they would write additional tunes for the stage score, which would rely more heavily on music in place of animation.  Time will tell whether Idina Menzel, a Broadway star who has performed in such shows as Rent and Wicked, will reprise her role as Elsa, the 21 year-old snow queen who inadvertently turns her kingdom into ice.  If this were to happen, the storyline would need to be slightly adjusted for Idina, who is presently 43 years old.  At this time, she is starring in a new musical called If / Then, where she plays a 40 year-old woman who moves back to New York City in search of a new start after a divorce.  The other lead role in the film, Princess Anna, was played by Kristen Bell, the beloved screen star known for her role on the television series Veronica Mars.  Bell has only been on Broadway twice; the last time was The Crucible in 2002.  Therefore, it will be fascinating to see if she reprises her screen role on the stage as well.

But First, “Up Here”

Though Frozen is still in its early stages of becoming a stage show, Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are keeping busy.bobby lopez kristen anderson lopez  They have written the score to another new musical called Up Here, the storyline of which follows a millennial protagonist named Dan who reckons with his subconscious mind while seeking a romantic relationship.  That show will premiere at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse in the 2015 – 2016 season directed by Alex Timbers, a young director who has made a name for himself with such hit shows as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, Rocky, and Here Lies Love.  Up Here is a more alternative story, and therefore its potential to transfer to Broadway is questionable.  This tryout run will serve to show Broadway producers if such a niche story could have a wide enough appeal to survive in this competitive marketplace.  In any case, the Lopez duo and Timbers both have plenty of connections to keep on making mainstream potential hits such as Frozen, while also experimenting with more alternative fare.

Disney’s Aladdin Finally Hits the Broadway Stage

Aladdin on BroadwayAladdin, a musical stage adaptation of the beloved 1992 Disney movie, has finally come to Broadway.  Previews began on February 26, 2014 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, and the red carpet opening night will take place on March 20, 2014.

Based off of centuries-old folklore including One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin is the story of a street urchin who wins the heart of a princess with the help of a genie from a magic lamp.  With a musical score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the stage version incorporates additional lyrics and a book written by Chad Beguelin (Elf the Musical, The Wedding Singer).  The show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone).

The cast is led by Adam Jacobs (The Lion King, Les Misérables) as Aladdin, Courtney Reed (In the Heights, Mamma Mia!) as Princess Jasmine, James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) as Genie, and Jonathan Freeman (The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins) as Jafar.  Freeman also played Jafar in the original animated film.  Furthermore, the musical features a trio of sidekicks to Aladdin, who reportedly were conceived and then discarded during the making of the original film, but who are now finally incorporated into this stage adaptation.  These roles are played by Brian Gonzales as Babkak, Brandon O’Neill as Kassim, and Jonathan Schwartz as Omar.

Aladdin is the newest in a line of Disney animated movie to musical theatre adaptations mounted by Disney Theatricals, whose producing history includes Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid.  Three of these were enormous hits.  Beauty and the Beast ran for 13 years (from 1994 to 2007), grossing over $1.4 billion worldwide.  The Lion King has been a huge smash since its opening in 1997, and this past October it became the first show to gross over $1 billion from its Broadway production alone.  Mary Poppins also had a profitable run from 2006 to 2013, recouping its investment after only one year.  However, Tarzan and The Little Mermaid were notorious flops, failing to attract an audience despite the success of their precursors.  Therefore, Aladdin is not necessarily a shoo-in for mega-hit, but its fate will be more discernible when the reviews come out after its opening.

The show has had several out-of-town runs prior to its arrival in New York.  After its premiere at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in July 2011, the musical has had stints in Ivins, Utah in June – October 2012, St. Louis, Missouri in July 2012, and it has just completed its official pre-Broadway run at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, where it ran from November 2013 to January 2014.

It is not unusual for a musical’s producers to counter their risk by trying out a show in a different city before bringing it to Broadway.  In anticipating a Broadway run, producers may choose to enhance the budget of a not-for-profit theatre’s production of the show while retaining legal rights to the property, and generally while maintaining a degree of creative control.  Though they do not stand to profit monetarily from the early run, they can test the waters in the press to tweak creative elements before investing the whole Broadway budget, and they can also economize by keeping the same costumes and sets.  In certain cases, if the show really isn’t as good as predicted, they may even decide to cut their losses and put a kibosh on the Broadway run.  Though they would have lost their enhancement (often in the realm of one million dollars), they would be avoiding an eventual loss of much more (Broadway musical budgets can easily range $10 – $16 million).

In this light, the fact that Aladdin has had so many pre-Broadway productions implies that its producers were not satisfied with the quality of the first run and felt the need to make adjustments.  Despite any changes that may have been made after the first three attempts, Aladdin’s most recent run in Toronto still triggered a mixed response.  The Toronto Star said that A Friend Like Me was a show-stopping number, but otherwise the musical did not match up to its animated predecessor.  The Vancouver Sun predicted that kids may enjoy the spectacle and simple story, but that its gleam may be lost on adults who crave more complex characters.  Still, Canada’s National Post gave it a rave.  In any case, critical response does not always dictate ticket sales, and over time we may see the brand power of this animated classic overriding ambivalence from the press.

Broadway Production of Newsies to Launch Tour in 2014

Newsies Broadway MusicalSince opening on Broadway over a year and a half ago, Disney’s Broadway musical version of its cult hit movie Newsies has earned many Tony Award nominations, earned back its initial investment, and become a family favorite on the Great White Way. Now, the celebrated production is making plans to hit the road for its North American tour.

The Newsies Broadway touring production is set to launch in October of 2014 in Schenectady, New York. In 2014 and 2015, the tour is scheduled to hit 25 cities, including Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Nashville, Toronto, Tucson, Washington D.C., and many places in between.

“The enthusiasm from North American audiences and theatres for a Newsies tour has been palpable,” stated Thomas Schumacher of Disney Theatrical Productions, “proving that the affection for this title is deeper and more widespread than even we imagined.”

To find out more about the tour stops and forthcoming announcements regarding dates, visit www.NewsiestheMusical.com.

Disney To Bring The Princess Bride To The Stage

The Princess BrideThe beloved William Goldman novel The Princess Bride, even more widely known and loved as a 1987 movie by Rob Reiner, is soon to become a stage production. Disney is working on developing a theatrical version of the property, though it is yet uncertain as to whether or not it will be a musical.

A romantic adventure tale about a headstrong young woman named Buttercup and the farmboy-turned-pirate who she loves, The Princess Bride film featured a talented cast including Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, and several people who are no strangers to Broadway and the New York stage: Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal (who just began his one-man show 700 Sundays on Broadway), and Wallace Shawn (starring in his own play Off-Broadway currently).

The author of The Princess Bride and the film’s screenwriter, William Goldman, also has a Broadway connection, having written the theater classic The Season, which offered a comprehensive examination of the 1967-68 season on Broadway. Goldman previously worked with Broadway composer/lyricist Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) on an adaptation of The Princess Bride, but the project was scrapped. There is no word yet on a new creative team.

Newsies Still Packs Them In, a Year After Jeremy Jordan Departed

Newsies Broadway Musical

Newsies Broadway Musical

Encouraged by the New York newsboy strike of 1899, Disney’s cathartic production of Newsies the Musical first premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in the fall of 2011, quickly moving on to the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway in the spring of 2012.  Whether it is because the show has been running on Broadway for an extensive period of time or the show wrestles without an attention reeling name like Jeremy Jordan, this Disney musical has not been living up to its full potential this year, compared to the last. (Jeremy Jordan left Newsies on Sept 4 2012 to pursue his dream of TV fame in the musical drama TV series Smash which aired on NBC and ended its 2nd, and final, season on May 26, 2013)

When Newsies first opened on Broadway in the March of 2012, they were averaging 100.8% in ticket sales and were grossing an average of $937,788.92, in comparison to January of 2013. Up until now they have been averaging 95.6% in ticket sales and are grossing an average of $847,072.23, with a 97% of theatre seats sold on average every night.  Looking at this data, there was not a colossal loss, possibly because in the beginnings of this production, people were so anxious about this musical being an adaptation to the popular 1992 film, starring Christian Bale. Compared to the movie, the musical is much longer and more care and precision have been placed into it.

Recasting has always been a difficult task to execute and even though the show has fared critically in monetary terms, Jeremy Jordan’s replacement, Corey Cott, has been fairly up to par. The emotional build up for every number is not nearly as tantamount to what Jeremy set the standards for, but Corey manages to pull off an astounding performance with a voice similar to Jeremy’s, making up for many of the weak moments to the female lead’s, Kara Lindsay’s, singing. Albeit the humorous, witty journalistic jokes and snappy, energetic attitude, Kara lacks this sort of resilience and strength, for the most part; coming off seemingly reserved and as if she is holding herself back, teetering along the lines of the melody and not quite hitting all of her notes. (Maybe this is due to the exhausting eight-shows-a-week schedule.)

Aside from the exciting dance numbers and character developments, there is exceptional use of the limited space on stage. The construction of the set, along with the essence of New York, is captured quite perfectly. A gate at the top of each moving staircase so that they can connect or detach from each other exacerbates the excitement of the chase-run scenes. The backdrop is tastefully modern, displaying shifting scenery or showing words from a typewriter whenever Kara’s character speaks what she is so furiously typing. Any seat in the house could clearly see what was going on, although being in the front few aisles definitely opens up your eyes to the deliberate sweat dripping and spit flying everywhere.

Even though Disney’s target market is for families of all ages, female fans of the Christian Bale movie of the same name, the audience demographic at this show seems to skew to an older, more mature crowd who may find solace in this hopeful musical because of the very pertinent modern day financial and social struggles.

With tattered corduroys and newsboy cap wearing orphan boys selling newspapers, desperate to make a living out on the cutthroat streets of New York, Newsies pulls at the heartstrings, bringing to mind the toil of making a living on Broadway, or simply the everyday strife that everybody trudges through. With no foul language or anything particularly scandalous to worry about, overall, this show is quite uplifting, entertaining, and sublime for families.