Disney Theatrical developing multiple projects
To judge by its Broadway output, Disney Theatrical Prods. has gone quiet since “The Little Mermaid,” which opened in early 2008.
But a sudden spate of productions of licensed titles, including the recent Off Broadway bow of “Peter Pan” prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” is one clue the org’s development slate has actually gotten busier — with projects in the works that include tuner adaptations of “Freaky Friday,” “The Jungle Book” and Tim Burton’s 3D “Alice in Wonderland.”
It’s a recent ramp-up prodded by the company’s awareness of expanding potential in international markets, boosted by the kind of global brand recognition that, for instance, makes “Jungle Book” a much requested stage title in Germany. Many of the developing projects, then, are bound not for Broadway but toward licensed productions in regional markets and around the world.
Disney execs say they’re open to Rialto possibilities for those titles developed for licensing, but they’re not counting on it.
“The hope, obviously, is that one or more of these is hugely successful,” says Disney Theatrical producer and prexy Thomas Schumacher. “But they have other ways to feed through the enterprise, too.”
Including licensed productions created and produced by third parties — such as “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” thanks to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009 — as well as reduxes of pre-existing shows, the portfolio is broader than Rialto-focused observers might initially suspect.
According to Schumacher and Steve Fickinger, veep for creative development and theatrical licensing, it’s the busiest slate the company’s legit arm has had.
Shows in development to be produced by Disney Theatrical in stagings targeted to Broadway include:
nThe musical adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” which teams Tim Burton, who will oversee the production, with multiple alums of the stage version of “Beauty and Beast.” Burton and “Beauty” set designer Stan Meyer will collaborate on production design, while “Beauty” helmer Robert Jess Roth directs and another “Beauty” collaborator, Matt West, choreographs. Linda Woolverton (“Beauty,” “The Lion King”), who penned the film’s screenplay, is onboard to write the book. Richard D. Zanuck, a producer of the film, joins as co-exec producer, and Disney is in conversations with Basil Twist to create the puppets.
n “Dumbo,” which will see Michael Chabon penning the book for the “Billy Elliot” duo of director Stephen Daldry and choreographer Peter Darling. Bob Crowley (“Aida,” “Mary Poppins”) designs.
n”Father of the Bride,” not necessarily a title that instantly screams the Disney brand, but linked through the Touchstone film that starred Steve Martin. Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) directs.
All three projects are still in the works, with some collaborators — including songwriters for all three — still to be nailed down.
Alongside those larger-scale projects are properties Disney develops in versions to be licensed to regional and international markets hungry for stage adaptations of familiar titles. Among these, in varying phases of the development trajectory:
n “Freaky Friday,” an adaptation of the well-known body-switch comedy with songs by young composer Ryan Scott Oliver and book by Bridget Carpenter (“Friday Night Lights”). Christopher Ashley helms in a staging headed for a developmental production at La Jolla Playhouse next spring.
n Early-stages project “Jungle Book,” a tuner version (with songs from the movie) to be written and directed by Mary Zimmerman (“Metamorphoses”).
nNew versions of shows that already played on Broadway, including “The Little Mermaid,” to be produced in three separate regional productions this summer. Meanwhile, for a Stage Entertainment incarnation readying to tour Europe, book writer Doug Wright is taking another pass at the script, while designer Crowley and helmer Glenn Casale step into roles filled on Broadway by George Tsypin and Francesca Zambello, respectively. Also on the slate is a potential new incarnation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” to be helmed by Scott Schwartz (“Golda’s Balcony”).
Shows such as “Freaky Friday” and “Jungle Book” join previously announced titles, like the New York Theater Workshop-produced “Peter,” which are developed but not produced by Disney. Still, Disney Theatrical remains closely tied to “Peter”: The company has supervised its development at every step, and will be involved in any future life that emerges for the production.
There’s also a two-act stage version of 1992 animated pic “Aladdin” — oft-requested by stock, amateur and regional companies — bowing this summer at the 5th Avenue in Seattle.
The stage version incorporates movie tunes by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, as well as some written for the pic but never used. New book by Chad Beguelin will incorporate previously unseen material created for the film. Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon”) directs.
Plus, there’s “Newsies,” pairing original songwriters Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman with book writer Harvey Fierstein. The first production of that one, directed by Jeff Calhoun, opens at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse in September.
Disney sometimes invests in other shows on the Main Stem, most recently chipping in on the new revival of “Arcadia.” And there are also the independent productions of titles linked to Disney via Touchstone, Miramax or Marvel, including “Spider-Man,” “Sister Act,” “Calendar Girls” and “Kinky Boots.”
For the majority of Disney’s developing projects, skeds are uncertain and, particularly in the case of the larger productions, likely to require time to come together. But the packed slate indicates that “Peter,” “Newsies” and “Aladdin” may be only the first in a wave of Disney-linked shows that may not let up any time soon.