*a giant stained-glass window covers up this article*
*a mysterious voice begins to speak*
We’re heading to a poor, provincial town on this episode of Encore, so we know the obvious ding dang Disney connections. However, this show has a large, fascinating backstory and a prospective future that I am excited to get into.
- Episode 2: Beauty and the Beast
- Book: Linda Woolverton
- Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken and Howard Ashman/Tim Rice, respectively
- Based on: The 1991 Disney animated film
- Broadway Premiere: April 18, 1994 at the Palace Theatre
- But, like, any Tony Awards? : 9 Nominations, 1 Win for Best Costume Design
- Best Song, as decided by me alone: “Human Again” and/or the soloist singing “10 YARDS!”
When the film premiered in 1991, the consensus was that the story was ripe for a stage production. The film was one of the first Disney animated films that was written with a clear Broadway sensibility, more so than former Disney musicals. The power team of Ashman and Menken were the hands behind the switch in storytelling practices and the success was immediate.
After toying around with Broadway in the past, Michael Eisner and Jeffery Katzenberg finally decided the time was right to begin looking into bringing Disney to the Great White Way.
After an out-of-town tryout in 1993, the show premiered at the Palace Theater in April of 1994. (For those unaware, April is the cut-off month for Tony nominations. So, when you see a lot of shows premiering on Broadway at that time, their hope is to be fresh in Tony voters minds for the eventual nominations and awards.) The show opened to mixed reviews, but the show became a juggernaut in more ways than one.
The show was the most expensive show on Broadway at the time, costing an estimated $12 million to put up. In 1999, to prepare for the opening of Aida, Beauty and the Beast transferred to the Lunt-Fontane theater. The show ran until 2007, running for 5461 performances and becoming the tenth longest-running show in Broadway history. During its run, the show had 17 different Belles, including Anneliese Van der Pol, my queen Ashley Brown, Andrea McArdle, and originating with Susan Egan, who later went on to voice Megara in the animated film Hercules. Toni Braxton also performed in the iconic role in 1998. The story goes that she was hesitant to sign on for the three-month run, but over an boozy dinner, an intoxicated Tim Rice promised Braxton an original song would be added to the show just for her. The song became “A Change in Me” and has been with the show ever since. I personally love when Ashley Brown sings it, as it causes me to weep large, wet, salty tears and scream “I am not worthy” at loud volumes!
Not only was it a box office juggernaut, but it also completely changed the landscape of Broadway forever. It brought in a more commercial sensibility to Midtown Manhattan centered around family entertainment. Disney Theatricals almost singlehandedly made musicals a most explicit family affair. It changed how shows were marketed, created, and allowed for an influx of movie-to-stage adaptations.
While the show is no longer running on the Broadway, it does have a successful afterlife. A huge boon for theatrical productions is licensing. Once you make a show available to be licensed, people can pay for the rights to perform your show across the country and world. This can be local theater productions, high school productions, and so on. For example, Seussical, the Broadway musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ works, had a tumultuous and rather unsuccessful run on Broadway. Yet, it has been in the Top 10 of most-produced high school shows for the past 2 decades.
Beauty and the Beast was the sixth most produced show in high schools across the country in the aughts, and the number 1 most produced in the ‘10s. Its licensing success could be argued as having even more weight than that of its Broadway run!
Thomas Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, was recently quoted as saying that in honor of the 25 year anniversary of Disney on Broadway, that a revival of Beauty and the Beast will be coming in the near future. If you never had the chance to see the original Broadway production, get ready for its return to The Main Stem soon. Some could say, the show is having its own Encore. *gives self a high five*
*Be sure to check out the hyperlinks throughout the article and future pieces in this series for clips from the show, random musical theater references, and canonical items from my life that deserve to be shared amongst the masses*