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Disney on Broadway 2.0 with “Peter” and “Newsies”

October 20th, 2011

"Peter and the Starcatcher" at NYTW. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Yesterday, producers announced a Spring 2012 Broadway transfer for the New York Theatre Workshop hit Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel of sorts to Peter Pan, featuring imaginatively minimalist staging from directors Alex Timbers and Roger Rees. Tucked at the end of the announcement, well below mentions of the production’s stellar Off-Broadway reviews and the artistic bonafides of the collaborators, is a familiar name that usually gets top billing: Disney Theatrical Productions.

Similarly, the recent run of Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse was a low-pressure test of a Disney property. The production has paid off in a show that, while originally aimed to create a licensable script, seems likely to make a Broadway transfer after glowing reviews and a real sense of surprise. A comparatively small-scale version of Aladdin in Seattle is also building buzz as a regional hit. In each case, the DTP team has gathered interesting artists and created conditions that appear to put the show first and a march to Broadway second.

Are the days of swing for the fences, Broadway or bust, big budget style Disney stage adaptations a thing of the past? Is this Disney on Broadway 2.0? From the outside, it’s hard to know; this could be a new developmental model born of economic changes or just a coincidence of timing and less iconic titles. Blockbusters Mary Poppins and The Lion King are still packing in big Broadway houses, in both cases big hits built on adventurous choices like the hiring of less-mainstream directors Julie Taymor and Matthew Bourne. The central figure of DTP, Thomas Schumacher, has always been a savvy theater artist and a supporter of new works and new artists. Whatever the case, it’s fun to see this large corporation embracing a scrappier, in the trenches style to create interesting theater. And more, interesting theater is never a bad thing.

In case you missed Peter and the Starcatcher‘s all-too brief run at New York Theatre Workshop (the entire creative team is continuing on for the Broadway version), here’s a video trailer from that production…

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