All thanks to that Mickey Mouse outfit

Walt Disney isn't the most likely saviour of the musical. But, with a lavish 'Beauty and the Beast' set to open, and several other shows in the pipeline, the wonderful world has come to the stage.

The musical is dead. No one in their right minds would dream of describing the past 15 years as Broadway's finest. As Amanda McBroom's cabaret song puts it, "Everyone Wants to Be Sondheim", but his producers will tell you that his critically well-received musicals don't make money. (Well, Into the Woods did, but only on the tour.) On the flip-side are the populist works, transatlantic tourist attractions such as Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera which, like Ol' Man River, keep on rolling along, but even their creators have had rough rides recently. All the stars in the Really Useful Group's sizeable Filofax couldn't turn Sunset Boulevard into worthwhile profit.

Yet, just when the snobs thought it was safe to go back into the theatre, the corpse has sat up grinning. Broadway is alive with product. In the past few years, producers have hit paydirt disinterring past glories like Damn Yankees (which opens in London next month), Matthew Broderick fronting How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the National Theatre's Carousel, or the current smash, Chicago, arriving here in the Autumn. Then, last season, change arrived in the successful shape of the La Boheme- meets-HIV-rock-musical, Rent, and the black-history-through-tap-dancing sensation Bring in da' noise, Bring in da' funk. The news this season is that, aside from Annie and Candide, there's a bumper crop of new musicals.

Yesterday, the Tony nominations were announced and Maury Yeston's gargantuan Titanic is up for five, including Best Musical; Steel Pier, about marathon dances in the 1930s, rather like They Shoot Horses, Don't They minus the politics, from Kander and Ebb (creators of Cabaret), has picked up 11; and The Life, the story of a couple who make money but lose out as a hooker and a pimp on Times Square in the Eighties (like a darker take on Cy Coleman's earlier Sweet Charity), has nabbed 12. Also-rans include a vast Jekyll and Hyde, the Twelfth Night-meets-Duke Ellington Play On! and the Johnny Mercer compilation Dream.

"There's a lot of product out there carving up the dollar," admits Candide's producer Garth Drabinsky, mindful of his $4.25m cost, chicken feed when compared with Titanic, which sailed in at $10m. Even that is dwarfed by the latest blockbuster to hit London after cloned productions in New York, LA, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Vienna, Osaka and Tokyo. Beauty and the Beast, the theatrical version of the animated wonder, has cost Disney $13m, making it London's most expensive musical ever and, ironically, it's all the fault of "the butcher of Broadway", the legendary ex-New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich.

Reviewing the film on a classical music radio station back in 1991, Rich described composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman's movie songs as "the best Broadway score written this year". The pair of them were straddling the divide, the joke being that if we thought we'd seen the last gasp of the stage musical, the coffin of its movie counterpart was six feet under. Original Hollywood musicals had peaked in the Fifties with Arthur Freed producing the likes of Singin' in the Rain at MGM, while later stage-to-screen transitions of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows such as South Pacific and The Sound of Music, and the multi-Oscar pile-up for Bernstein's West Side Story, kept the studios more than happy. At the end of the Sixties, the business turned to Barbra Streisand to save them, but after knocking 'em dead in Funny Girl, more - in the mangled shapes of Hello, Dolly! and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever - proved to be less. Bette Midler's powerhouse performance in The Rose proved that there were still vital signs but, come 1980, the dollar-chewing, disco-driven disasters Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu sounded the death knell. By 1985, who wanted Richard Attenbrough's ill-conceived screen version of Broadway's longest runner A Chorus Line? Answer: nobody.

Not that anyone was denying the power of song. Eighties cinema ate up screen time with moony montage sequences cut to wannabe hits and everything from the Bond movies upwards used songs to sell themselves, if only to cover the titles. Entire movies were constructed around catalogues of period hits and the largest chunk of the credits these days is the recording details and copyright listings for songs from the soundtrack. The producers of Evita, "the screen event of the decade", would have you believe that their musical amounted to the resurrection, but don't believe a word of it. Ashman and Menken got there first.

The two of them hit the big time with their off-off-Broadway, Phil Spector- sound, B-movie spoof Little Shop of Horrors (which intriguingly began life as a Brecht / Weill style show): it was duly turned into a movie. Ashman joined the then moribund Disney animation studio to make The Little Mermaid (1989), taking composer Menken with him. The venture netted Menken the first two in his collection of eight Oscars and from there came world domination in the form of Beauty and the Beast (1991).

Director Robert Jess Roth and designer Stan Meyer, friends since college, had been mounting stage spectaculars in Disney theme parks but had been pressing studio supremo Michael Eisner (who had also majored in theatre at college) to let them do something on Broadway. Eisner was intrigued, but nothing clicked until he followed up on Frank Rich's hunch and suggested a stage transition for Beauty and the Beast. Months of preparation and a two-and-a-half-hour pitch later, it was a done deal. It opened almost exactly three years ago at the Palace Theatre to downbeat reviews from the weightier press, who expressed more than slight misgivings. No one could gainsay the splendour of the spectacle, its technical flair and lavish costumes, but watching actors express all the innate subtlety of a cartoon wasn't to everyone's taste. Audiences flocked, however. With tickets hovering around $70, no one would want to risk shelling out on a loser, but, with the Disney imprimatur on it, and in the wake of the splendid film, this show offers the epitome of the known quantity.

Beauty and the Beast changed Roth's life. This friendly, energetic thirtysomething guy need never work again, but he has directed its worldwide reincarnations and is helming it in London, convinced it will be better than ever, thanks to the strengths of British actors. Successive productions have simplified many of the technical demands of this outsize show, but Disney has had to move the back wall of the vast Dominion theatre to house the stage machinery, sets, costumes and props, including 600 lamps, three miles of lighting cable and 160 wigs, let alone the cast of 40, an orchestra of 25 and an astonishing backstage crew of 69. (Where are they going to hold the opening night party? Wembley Stadium?)

Peter Schneider, the boyish, enthusiastic president of Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, cheerily dismisses suggestions that the stage version might be considered a pale imitation of the film. "You have to strive not to dilute the original source. That's the goal. I think it's a great evening in the theatre." He has no time for the notion that success is guaranteed. "If you think it's foretold, you fail. Rest on your laurels, you're in trouble. London is a very different market. It's familiar with pantomimes and Christmas entertainments, so I think we have to be vigilant in making it a dynamic production that is unique to Britain. It will have a different sensibility... the same elements but a different flavour."

He's equally excited by the myriad projects on Disney's slate. The Lion King arrives on stage later this year, while Elton John and Tim Rice are writing a new stage musical of Aida with 17 songs that Schneider believes include five hit singles. (He's probably right: Elton John's Lion King album sold 11 million copies in the States.) As for animation, Hercules, the latest from Alan Menken, opens in the USA in July, Phil Collins is at work on songs for Tarzan and Sting is doing likewise for a fairy tale, Kingdom of the Sun.

Ten years ago, if you'd suggested that Disney was the crash team to pump life back into the musical, no one would have listened. Not even Schneider, but he's too busy to speculate on the past. The day after Beauty and the Beast opens, he's flying back to Manhattan. Why? To attend the opening of the company's next big venture: nine concert performances of Alan Menken and Tim Rice's King David being given in Disney's opulently restored New Amsterdam Theatre with 12 principals, 40 in the chorus and, says Schneider, "Shoot me, 54 musicians!" If it works, they'll turn it into a full show. In that event, even Nineties power-players Disney may be forced to cut this musical Goliath down to sizen

'Beauty and the Beast' is previewing at the Dominion Theatre and opens 13 May



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss