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.