What the Disney-Fox Deal Could Mean for Broadway

FROZEN -Patti Murin (Anna) and John Riddle (Hans) -Publicity-EMBED 2017
Courtesy of Deen van Meer

Patti Murin and John Riddle in Frozen

Will 'Aladdin,' 'Frozen,' 'The Devil Wears Prada,' 'Father of the Bride' and 'Mrs. Doubtfire' all fit under the same roof of a combined studio theatrical division?

Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox is set to impact every sector of the entertainment business, including Broadway, where studio theatrical divisions have been aggressively ramping up. The deal is announced as Fox’s theatrical arm is developing a slew of its screen properties for the stage, leaving the fate of these adaptations in new, but seasoned, hands.

Established in the mid-1990s, Disney Theatrical Productions has set the bar for a hit stage adaptation with the continually thriving The Lion King. Directed by Julie Taymor and featuring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the 1997 musical based on the 1994 animated film won six Tony Awards and has surpassed $1.4 billion at the Broadway box office alone. Eclipsing the 13-year run of Disney's Beauty and the Beast stage version, The Lion King has spawned 24 global productions in eight languages, and has a worldwide gross exceeding that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box-office history.

Disney has sought to emulate that lionizing success, with mixed results. Its in-house Broadway adaptations have included modestly budgeted projects like Newsies, as well as expensive mega-musicals like its co-produced Mary Poppins, both of which yielded Tony wins, solid New York runs and tours. Stage takes on The Little Mermaid and Tarzan came and went, though they have since been retooled in regional and international productions. Disney's more recent Aladdin has consistently been one of Broadway’s top-grossing shows since bowing in 2014, earning over $294 million in New York to date and launching corresponding productions on the West End, in Australia and on tour in North America.

This February, Disney will introduce its third concurrent Broadway production, based on the 2013 animated juggernaut Frozen. Additionally, DTP head Tom Schumacher has discussed developing stage musicals based on the beloved films The Princess Bride and Father of the Bride. And like many other studios and estates, Disney also has licensed or co-produced stage iterations of its films, including The Jungle Book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Freaky Friday and Pinocchio — with the latter just debuting this month at London’s National Theatre.

In comparison to Disney, Fox is relatively new at the in-house process of adapting its film properties into stage shows. The studio's Fox Stage Productions (not to be confused with the coincidentally named Fox Theatrical, which was one of the producers on The Humans, Fun Home and If/Then, among many others) launched a joint venture with producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, Avenue Q) to create new stage adaptations of Fox properties, including The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which had a developmental production at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis) and The Devil Wears Prada. Additionally, Fox Stage is developing versions of Mrs. Doubtfire, Working Girl and All About Eve, with Cate Blanchett set to star in the latter in London next year.

Before establishing its own theatrical arm, Fox was represented on Broadway as a licenser. Such is the case with the upcoming Moulin Rouge! stage show, debuting next summer in Boston, as well as the current Broadway musical Anastasia. Based on the 1997 animated film, Anastasia opened earlier this year and has consistently been a solid performer at the box office, grossing $37.5 million to date. Fox properties Big, 9 to 5 and Young Frankenstein also were previously licensed by external producers for stage musical adaptations.

While there’s no official word yet on how the Disney-Fox deal will affect the two studios’ theatrical plans, there’s no question that a combined studio stage division shepherding properties from both libraries would be a powerhouse player alongside other single-banner studio theatrical operations like Universal, which has had success with Wicked and Billy Elliot, among other shows.

Fox’s catalog is chock-full of properties ripe for stage adaptations, including everything from classic Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe movies to family-friendly titles like Home Alone, Night at the Museum, The Chronicles of Narnia and Ice Age. Who knows — maybe the merger will lead to an ambitious Broadway version of Avatar, a suave show based on the Kingsman movies or a tune-filled take on M*A*S*H. Or how about a fresh attempt at the superhero-centric musical, with Tony-winning song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman even reprising his role as X-Men’s Wolverine?

David Rooney contributed to this report.