Adapting Disney for Broadway
By Sami DeSocio
It all started with Beauty and the Beast. Disney has been one of the top entertainment companies in the world, between movies, a television channel, and of course their theme parks. But there was something missing – live entertainment in the greatest city in the world!
But how to translate a seventy five minute cartoon musical to a full-length, two hour-forty five minute show that stays true to the original story, and includes everything children and even adults are used to seeing from Disney? Now there’s the challenge! And of course, in true Disney fashion, they continue to step up and knock it out of the park!
The first rule of translating Disney from screen to stage? Keep as much of the familiar music in tact as possible! Remember, at the end of the day, Disney is considered something for children. In order to get their attention you need to put music in that they recognize. Alan Menken is great at this, ensuring his music is covered almost in its entirety in any of his movies turned musicals (Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, the Little Mermaid, etc).
If they do need to add music, for either timesake or story sake, make sure that it sounds similar to the original score and fits seamlessly in. Again, Alan Menken is wonderful at this! When he had to add to Beauty and the Beast, he wrote a song called “Human Again” that sounded like it was from the original score. It sounded so like the original, that when they released a special edition of the movie, they animated the song and added it onto the special features, making it look like it was an outtake scene from the movie!
Aside from the music, Disney is great at making sure their Broadway productions look and feel like their cartoon counterparts. When The Little Mermaid came to Broadway, all of the actors wore heeleys, or shoes with wheels on them to give the audience the illusion that they were swimming. The heeleys made their movements more fluid. When they adapted Tarzan the actors were all suspended above the stage as if they were swinging in the trees.
Everything that Disney does is magical! From their theme parks to their movies. It’s no surprise that going to see one of their shows on Broadway will give you the same warm feeling that their movies always have.