Broadway Musical Musings: Ten Disney Films That Deserve the Broadway Treatment
In celebration of Disney’s Aladdin celebrating it’s 1,001st performance on Broadway, I thought it might be fun to speculate what other films in the Disney canon might be worth looking at for the stage musical treatment. Here are some ideas I have, admittedly some are longshots or require some major rethinking. Would you want to see any of these reach the stage, or do you have some ideas of your own?
Though I am indifferent toward the new, non-musical version about to open in film houses around the world, my heart has always held a special place for the original Pete's Dragon. Sure, it is a bit on the long side, but with some careful trimming and an inventive use of puppetry combined with projections to create the dragon, I think this could make one delightful Broadway musical for the family. The chief reason is the infectious Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn score that screams for Broadway, especially "Brazzle Dazzle Day", "The Happiest Home on These Hills" and the Oscar-nominated "Candle on the Water." The seaside village atmosphere and the salty characters who reside there are just waiting to come to life onstage.
The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band
So maybe it was a giant bomb initially, but the basic premise and much of the Sherman Brothers music in The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band is a lot of fun. Could a little revamping of the plot save this mostly forgotten score from obscurity? The story of a large family (eleven in all) with their own music group who get caught up in a presidential election in the late 1800s would make for a delicious slice of Americana. Audiences also love stories about large families, so it could add up to something fun.
The Princess and the Frog
This animated film never did quite get the traction it deserved, and I am not quite sure why that is. For me, The Princess and the Frog was atmospheric, unconventional, and overflowing with several Cajun-flavored numbers by Randy Newman that crackle with wit. Of particular fun (and stage possibility) is “Dig a Little Deeper”, a song that has the makings for a tent-revival-like explosiveness that would be a lot of fun onstage. Also, imagine the physical production, with the Mardis Gras inspired costumes and the New Orleans locales? The musical screams for an inventive director who can incorporate custom and flavor into the proceedings.
The Jungle Book
Wasn't a production of The Jungle Book kicking around out there that seemed as though it could be headed for Broadway? A few years ago I was reading about a very inventive production at the Goodman Theatre directed by Mary Zimmerman that most certainly had some buzz surrounding it that could have led me to believe it was Broadway bound. Regardless of what I recall, Disney's The Jungle Book should be a Broadway production: from its lively score (How much fun would “I Wanna Be Like You” be on the stage?) to the opportunity to employ southeast Asian theatre traditions (including shadow puppetry), it seems like a perfect storm for something thrilling and out-of-the-box.
Go with me on this: Disney-Pixar's Inside Out has the makings of a zany-wonderful musical. The voices in your head given musical characterizations that can either sing in harmony or in sublime discord? I feel like William Finn could have a lot of fun with this premise. He's great at bringing conflicting voices together in musical mayhem, and imagine what he could do with personified emotions? If ever there was a Pixar film that could sustain a musical treatment and build from the original’s form and content, it's Inside Out.
One of Disney's most emotionally charged animated films is the classic Pinocchio, the tale of a toy maker who wishes that the marionette he has crafted can become a real boy. The man is so loving and his wish so earnest, his wish is granted. The little boy must earn his humanity by proving to be a good boy and listening to his conscience (personified by a cricket). The original Leigh Harline and Ned Washington score has very few songs, but what there is magical. "When You Wish Upon A Star" may well be the best of the best where Disney songs are concerned. Perhaps an up-and-coming composer or writing team can round out the score with a half-dozen new songs?
I am not thinking of an exact replica of the Fantasia film (or films) but instead of a Broadway show that does thematically for classical music what the animated film did: create stories through dance and pageantry that appeal to kids and that introduce them to great pieces of classical music. There are still many great musical pieces to explore such as Ravel’s “Bolero” or Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” come to life. I think it could make for a very interesting night of theatrical storytelling.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
It surprises me that this title has yet to make it to Broadway, especially considering it is a well-regarded, semi-classic with a tuneful score, possessing of a compelling premise (three children sent to live with a witch-in-training during the London Blitz), and is predominantly a live-action film with the occasional animated sequence. The Richard and Robert Sherman score is one of their most magical, with the enchanting “The Age of Not Believing” and the robust “Portobello Road” as standouts. The plot might need a little tinkering here and there, but Bedknobs and Broomsticks is ripe for a glorious stage treatment.
Sleeping Beauty has always seemed to be one of the more sinister animated classics from the Disney Studios, which also makes its plot one where there is so much more at stake. Isn't this great fodder for musicalization? Unfortunately, as is, it isn't exactly a full-fledge musical because it only has a handful of songs. The music that does exist takes its inspiration (and its melodies) from Tchaikovsky. Surely he wrote plenty of other tunes that could be pilfered to round out the score (he did), and let's not forget the world's fascination with the gargoyle-ish Maleficent, who is considered by most to be Disney's darkest villain. Audiences would love to see her come to life onstage.
The Happiest Millionaire
Remember when Newsies was considered a weak film, but with a little rethinking became a smash Broadway musical? I think the same could happen for The Happiest Millionaire. As a film it was too long and the lead role miscast. The title character is an over-the-top eccentric who drags his family and household servants into his lunacy. The Sherman Brothers (once again) devised a score that captures that world, but the film and its performances never give it the lift that it deserves. Give The Happiest Millionaire the Newsies treatment. I'm convinced that there is something in this idea that will work!