×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney Theatrical Productions Boast Nearly Unparalleled Global Reach

“Is Disney Theatrical Productions a major part of Disney? No,” says Thomas Schumacher, president and producer of the live-entertainment arm of the company run by Bob Iger. “We’re very successful within the realm of theater, but within the giant scale of Disney, we don’t move the Wall Street needle.”

That may be, but DTP has yielded a string of big-money stage hits; the most recent, “Aladdin” has a total Broadway gross of $210 million and counting in New York alone, while “The Lion King,” the still-running global smash that premiered in 1997, is the top-grossing title of all time (well over $6 billion worldwide).

DTP is currently producing 22 shows around the world, all running alongside a crowd of licensed productions at professional theaters, amateur companies, and schools. The busy international activities of the Disney on Ice skating shows only enhance the division’s profile with the public. DTP keeps mum on total earnings, but estimates put 2015 revenue at $600 million.

“That’s a giant amount of exposure globally,” says Schumacher, the former president of Disney Animation who has been the solo head of DTP since 2001. “I know Bob recognizes that.”

With access to a catalog of titles that have a nearly unparalleled reach among international audiences of all ages, DTP can operate with an unusual nimbleness in a Broadway environment that is largely populated by independent producers who could never have the bandwidth or infrastructure to handle Disney’s plethora of ongoing stage projects. In addition to its highest-profile titles for Broadway — including potential juggernaut “Frozen,” due to open in spring 2018 — there are the works being developed solely for a licensing market hungry for Disney’s well-known properties. (The most recent example: “Freaky Friday,” which premiered in October in Washington, D.C.)

In addition, the global demand for Disney stage shows has allowed DTP to retool Broadway disappointments like “Tarzan” and “The Little Mermaid” into strong sellers abroad, and its New York footprint allows the company the flexibility to upgrade an unexpected licensing success to a Broadway engagement, as it did with “Newsies.” Originally intended for regional and amateur troupes, the stage adaptation of the 1992 movie flop raked in more than $100 million during a two-and-a-half-year Broadway run before going on to a robust touring and international life.

Disney’s theatrical division, launched by then-CEO Michael Eisner with the hit 1994 stage adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” is very much on Iger’s radar.
“Bob has been with us all over the world,” says Schumacher, who describes the Disney chairman and CEO as an integral, influential presence at key points in every big-ticket stage project’s development.

Iger made multiple visits to rehearsals and performances for the Mandarin-language production of “The Lion King” that bowed in Shanghai over the spring, Schumacher recalls. The Disney chief stopped by New York workshops and Toronto rehearsals as “Aladdin” made its way to Broadway, where he attended the first preview. He was there, too, for an important early reading of the developing “Frozen” musical last spring.

“I would never think about doing something like that without him in the room,” Schumacher says of the “Frozen” reading.

The head of DTP describes a corporate culture at Disney where leaders of every division are in constant communication. Schumacher, for instance, saw a rough cut of “Frozen” prior to its release, and immediately recognized the potential for a stage version. “I texted John Lasseter from the lobby of the Disney screening room and said, ‘When do we start?’ We began thinking about how we would do it long before the public had seen the movie, and long before it became a phenomenon.”

DTP is just one of the divisions whose far-ranging activities Iger keeps in view. “Bob seems to understand every moving part of this company in a way that is pretty profound,” says Schumacher. “He knows all of it. It’s crazy.”

More Legit

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content