Okay, okay. I know I did a Disney themed piece last week. But IN MY DEFENSE, that was due to my first time at Walt Disney World, and there’s still some residual pixie dust in my keyboard. So this week, I’m ranking the top 10 shows produced by Disney Theatrical Productions. Here’s the thing, though. I haven’t seen all of them (I’ve seen most), so the ones I am basing on cast recording alone will have an asterisk next to the title.
Before we begin the top ten, I would like to include a few Honorable Mentions:
On The Record*
I was never able to see this show (mostly because for the longest time, I didn’t know it existed), but who wouldn’t want a musical revue of 40+ Disney songs spanning 7 decades? No? That’s just me? Cool.
I’m honestly shocked that Disney didn’t push for a Broadway run of this show. Between Be More Chill, Dear Evan Hansen, and Mean Girls, Broadway is really starting to click with the “show set in high school” thing. I think it could've done really well and the cast recording is one I find myself listening to all the time! (Also, for those of you who didn’t see the show, I highly recommend the Disney Channel Original Movie adaptation of the musical—it's actually really great!
This list is purely based on my opinion and experiences, and if this show had been on stage by now, I would have been totally biased and picked it as number 1. But it’s not here yet—it is in development though (*insert fangirl squeal here*)!
Okay, onto the list!
I know this seems cliché because I’ve heard so many people talk about how mediocre this production was, but it’s not at the bottom of this list because it’s mediocre. I loved the cast recording, and Josh Strickland should be in more things (it’s been over a decade, please come back). But I am just not as emotionally attached to this story as I am to the others.
9. Mary Poppins
This show being this low on the list is not a testament to how much it means to me. I got my first tattoo a few years back (“step in time” on my foot...get it?) because seeing this show has stuck with me for so long. It was the first show I got to see with my little sister (and without a guardian), so I felt so cool just being there. Oh, and Ashley Brown. Hold on, that wasn't loud enough. ASHLEY. BROWN. There we go. That woman was my Belle in Beauty and the Beast and my Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, and I love her to pieces. She is astounding. Bert is my favorite male live-action Disney character, and to see “Step in Time” performed on a Broadway stage as big of a number as they made it into… No wonder I needed the title of the song permanently marking my body. You know the feeling of having a crush on someone, and then it turns into more than that and you realize you’re actually madly in love with them? Before I saw Mary Poppins, I knew I liked Broadway, but between “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (yes I typed that from memory) and watching Mary Poppins soar into the audience, I feel so deeply in love with it.
Patti Murin and Caissie Levy as Anna and Elsa respectively brought the Arendelle sisters to life in a manner that blew me away. The new music is some of the best that’s come from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (and that’s saying something given my undying love for Avenue Q). Elsa’s new song, “Monster”, is all I ever wanted in a power ballad, and the revamped “Love is an Open Door” has all but ruined the original soundtrack version for me. If you were a fan of Frozen (or hate Frozen but secretly loved it because you are a human being), I can't recommend this production enough.
7. The Little Mermaid
One of the funniest thing about this show is the fact that people called it a flop. What?! I mean, sure, it only lasted about a year on Broadway, but I’d hardly call that a flop. This show took our favorite mermaid’s adventures and splashed them all over a Broadway stage—and did so in a way that was creative and fun. I had no idea how they were going to handle Ariel’s lack of a voice in the second act, but they managed really well! Plus, PRINCE ERIC FINALLY HAD A SONG. When I was a kid, that was the only thing wrong about that movie (well, that and the fact that Ariel never thought to just write her name down, but I digress). Everything about that show was fun and colorful, and I loved every minute of it.
Most people who know me know that I don’t have a problem with movie-to-musical adaptations as long as they bring something new to the table. The musical adaptation of Aladdin is the perfect example of that. Not only do they add new songs and characters, but much to the delight of my Disney nerd heart, the characters and songs they added were cut from the original version of the 1992 film! They reverted the Genie to lyricist Howard Ashman’s original vision of a jazz cabaret singer, which birthed a killer new rendition of “Friend Like Me.” Oh! And they resurrected my all-time favorite Disney song, “Proud of Your Boy,” so I was 100% on board.
5. Peter and the Starcatcher
Before the “this wasn’t Disney on Broadway” debate begins, it was produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, is a prequel to Peter Pan, and was a phenomenal production (that last part isn’t exactly relevant to the debate, but it is accurate). Plus, my list, my rules, so there. With that being said, Peter and the Starcatcher is one of the best plays I have ever seen in my life. The way such a small cast and small set can open up the world—and your mind—was breathtaking. And watching all of the characters we know and love come to be in such creative ways still puts a smile on my face. I hate that it’s not in New York anymore with all my heart. That show was so hysterical and so full of heart that I think everyone should have the chance to experience it forever. On the bright side, you can experience the magic of the story through the book series!
4. The Lion King
“Circle of Life” alone is worth the price of the ticket to this show. Even through the stream of tears falling from my eyes, I knew this show was a masterpiece. I never stopped getting chills from every performer, puppet, and musical number on that stage. The Lion King is a staple on Broadway for a very good reason. If you haven’t seen this remarkable production yet, please do.
Before Newsies, I always felt alone in my love for musical theatre. This show brought me lifelong friends and threw me into a community I do not plan on leaving any time soon. I wouldn’t be writing on this site without Newsies. But even putting all of my emotional connections to this show aside, Newsies was such an underdog of a movie, and I identified with it so much when I was younger. The stage adaptation was everything I wanted it to be and more. (Ignore the first time I saw it and was genuinely upset they replaced Denton. I was naive and not totally in love with Katherine Plumber then.) This show is set in 1899, but it feels so relevant. It’s important for young people to know they have a voice, and that’s what this show gave them. Plus, who doesn't love dancing on newspapers?
2. Beauty and the Beast
I went back and forth about which spot each of my top three shows would be in. Newsies did so much for me as a person, the number one show moved me in ways I have never been moved before, but Beauty and the Beast… Man, this was my very first show. No other show can be my first. No other show can raise its curtains to me for the first time. No other cast can be the first voices I heard on a Broadway stage. Sorry, I’m getting choked up just thinking about that. But Beauty and the Beast was more than just my first. It was Disney Theatrical Productions’ first too. It was Disney’s first try at gracing the Great White Way with its signature Disney magic, and what a perfectly beautiful show to start out with! This show is so wonderful. The lavish costumes, the larger-than-life set, and the additional songs... All of it comes together to tell the story of finding the beauty within and not judging a book by its cover. It is a phenomenal feat. One of my fondest memories in the theatre is watching Beast and Belle dance together for the first time during the titular song. I was so far off the edge of my seat that my grandmother had to pull me back by the shoulder. I was in complete awe of what I was watching, and it set me up to love that feeling of being at the edge of my seat for the rest of my life.
1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Yes, I know, it wasn’t on Broadway. Just typing that sentence makes my heart break. I was lucky enough to see this production at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey a few years back, and I still cannot stop thinking about it. Michael Arden played a haunting version of Quasimodo. This adaptation takes the songs and characters of the Disney film and encompasses them in the darkness of the original Victor Hugo novel. There aren’t enough words to describe how heartbreakingly beautiful this production is. It tears me up inside knowing this didn’t transfer because the music is some of Alan Menken’s absolute best, and the storytelling used in the production was so creative and new. Patrick Page brought the bone-chillingly heinous Claude Frollo to life in a way that still has me shiver whenever I listen to “Hellfire.” The 100-piece choir on stage was thrilling and made me feel like I was right on stage. I have been moved by shows before, and I’m sure I’ll be moved by more. But nothing compares to the way I felt watching this story unfold on stage. The film version of Hunchback of Notre Dame was a risk that Disney took due to its darker themes. I fully believe they should take that chance again on the stage adaptation because it deserves to be experienced.
Well, there you have it! Do you agree with my list? Probably not, but that’s cool! Let me know what your favorites are in the comments below, or tweet them to me @OfficialGigi. I’d love to see/discuss them with you!
(Image from Disney on Broadway website)