I spoke separately with Tom Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, and composer Alan Menken about Tony best-musical nominee Aladdin, which has taken over the company’s Times Square flagship, the New Amsterdam Theatre. Back in the day, the New Amsterdam was home to the Ziegfeld Follies, and there’s more than a dash of Busby Berkeley spectacle in the new show, which earned mostly damned-faint-praise from critics but which is doing great business and has an obvious future in various Disney iterations. It may not be The Lion King (really, what is?), but it ain’t The Little Mermaid, either.
With former Disney Studios chief Peter Schneider (now an independent producer), Schumacher — who started his career in L.A. working with such game-changers as director Peter Sellars and CalArts’s Bob Fitzpatrick — oversaw Disney’s animation renaissance beginning in the late 1980s and went exclusively to the theater division in 2002. The company now has three shows running on Broadway (with The Lion King and Newsies) and though he wouldn’t at all mind heading to the stage of Radio City Music Hall on June 8 to pick up a Tony, he’s pragmatic about the value of the nomination.
“The important period is the time between the nominations and the awards,” he said of the Tonys. “That’s the opportunity to sell our show to the audience, and our team is at the top of its game.” Disney doesn’t release figures but Schumacher said that Aladdin was produced on the “same scale as Mary Poppins,” the previous New Amsterdam tenant, which, all told, is probably in the $20 million range. Of course, few producers have either Disney’s pockets or it’s cross-platforming advantages (Mary Poppins has done big business in Australia, among other markets). He hasn’t lost his taste for the offbeat: “I cried twice during Here Lies Love,” Schumacher told me.
EXCLUSIVE: Times Square is teeming this week with out-of-town producers who descend each year in the weeks before the Tony Awards to see shows and sit through seminars run by people who think they know their business better than denizens of the flyover. They’re an important block among the 860 Tony voters and courting them during the confab, run by the Broadway League, runs hot and heavy. Jon Stewart and Tommy Tune made heartfelt keynote speeches; producers worked the crowd. None more avidly, even passionately, than Scott Rudin, whose powerful production of A Raisin In The Sun – starring, as you may have heard, Denzel Washington — is in the running for Best Revival of a Play. If you’ve seen those ubiquitous ads for The Book Of Mormon, you know that Rudin goes his own way in promoting his shows; Raisin is no exception.
This week, the visiting producers began receiving what ticket buyers will have on offer starting next week: The first-ever digital souvenir booklet for a show. Instead of a cheesy oversize booklet, they’ll get a pocketable flash drive with a 68-page program. I have it (Tony voters will also be getting it next week, gratis) and it’s exquisite.
The Raisin presentation includes photos, both archival and from the production, along with extensive interviews with the entire company, plenty of commentary from Washington on the play and on his colleagues, and essays on the significance of Lorraine Hansberry’s accomplishment by such luminaries as novelist Jeffrey Eugenides and Veep executive producer Frank Rich.
“We felt we couldn’t do what we wanted to do in a short printed book,” Rudin told me. “We wanted the amount of content that the play demanded and this satisfied that. We also felt that the audience receives information differently than they ever have, and that with a few rare exceptions, most sophisticated theatregoers would rather take home a USB key they can put in their pockets instead of a printed book of an inconvenient size and minimal content. I hope we’ll do this for everything now. It’s got wonderful material — why would we ever now do anything else?”
So: Rocky may have the championship fight, but Raisin has the knockout. And look for another one this fall, when A Delicate Balance brings Glenn Close back to Broadway. No word from Rudin on whether a digital booklet is in the works for Mormon.
Disney’s three Broadway blockbusters, including its latest entry Aladdin, took in more than $4 million at the box office last week, which proved to be a slow one for much of the competition. Aladdin, at the company’s flagship Broadway hangout the New Amsterdam Theatre on West 42nd Street, rang up $1,194,265 in sales, according to figures released this afternoon by the Broadway League, the industry trade group. Newsies, at the Nederlander Theatre, sold $812,665 in tickets. The Lion King, at the Minskoff Theatre, continued to roar as the top-grossing show in the District, selling $2,143,746 in tickets. All three shows were at or over 100% of audience capacity for the week ending Sunday.