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Disney Theatrical Turns 25: Stars of ‘Frozen,’ ‘Aladdin’ & More Talk All Things Disney at BroadwayCon 2019

Category Broadway

|by Danielle Moore |

“It’s reliably brilliant, whole storytelling.”

160 million theatergoers, 20 Tony Awards and 5 Olivier Awards. These distinctions could never belong to one show alone, but Disney Theatrical Group – which lays claim to these accolades, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – did, in fact, begin with just one show.

At a special anniversary panel on BroadwayCon 2019’s main stage, DTG’s President and CEO, Thomas Schumacher, was quick to dispel the notion that the organization was masterminded as a vehicle for adapting Disney films into hit after hit on the Broadway stage and beyond. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. In reality, Disney Theatrical Group was founded in 1994, for the sole purpose of adapting Beauty and the Beast for the musical stage. Schumacher was joined in conversation by several former and current stars of Disney Theatrical productions: Susan Egan (who originated the role of Belle in Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast), Merle Dandridge (Kala in Tarzan), Ashley Brown (the original Mary Poppins on Broadway), Christian Borle (the original Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher); James Monroe Iglehart (The Genie in Aladdin) and Patti Murin (Anna in Frozen). ShowTickets was on location as the panelists shared memorable anecdotes about their time in these productions, their own Disney favorites and what being a part of the DTG family means to them. Here are some of the highlights.

Patti Murin (‘Frozen’), James Monroe Iglehart (‘Aladdin’) and Christian Borle at BroadwayCon 2019’s Disney Theatrical 25th Anniversary Panel (Photo: Danielle Moore)

Patti Murin (‘Frozen’), James Monroe Iglehart (‘Aladdin’) and Christian Borle at BroadwayCon 2019’s Disney Theatrical 25th Anniversary Panel (Photo: Danielle Moore)

Their “Other” Disney Roles
When introducing the panelists, Schumacher asked each to share not only the Disney role they’ve become known for, but also their “other” Disney roles. Not long after opening as Belle on Broadway, Egan voiced Meg in the animated musical film Hercules. Dandridge, who recently completed an acclaimed turn as god of death Papa Ge in Once on This Island, also played the title role in AIDA on tour. “Don’t be intimidated,” quipped Brown, “but I was the fifteenth Belle” (in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway). In addition to originating the role of Black Stache, Borle was – in his words – “the worst tap-dancing Bert” in Mary Poppins on Broadway.

For further self-deprecation, Borle related the tale of how his tap choreography was always “doubled” by another, more skilled, member of the cast, with that cast member’s tap shoe microphone turned all the way up to disguise his tap mistakes. “It was the right choice,” he added good-naturedly. Though known for playing a perky Disney princess now, Murin did quite the opposite when she originated the role of theater diva Sharpay Evans in the first professional stage production of High School Musical – a role that, Schumacher joked, he himself had stepped in to play in preliminary readings of the adaptation of the hit Disney Channel Original movie.

Thomas Teases The Times
When discussing Borle’s acclaimed contribution to the success of Peter and the Starcatcher – a Peter Pan prequel – as Black Stache, Schumacher couldn’t resist making a shoutout to a critic from The New York Times, an outlet that has historically been less-than-impressed with many of Disney’s productions. “We didn’t put our name on it, so Ben Brantley thought someone else produced it,” he quipped, sending the audience into an uproar.

From left to right: Patti Murin (‘Frozen’), James Monroe Iglehart (‘Aladdin’), Christian Borle (‘Peter and the Starcatcher’), Ashley Brown (‘Mary Poppins’), Merle Dandridge (‘Tarzan’), Susan Egan (‘Beauty and the Beast’) and DTG President Thomas Schumacher.

Christian Borle Fangirls Over Susan Egan
When an audience member asked panelists which Disney song or role they did not sing or play that they wished they could have, they produced a variety of memorable responses. Egan wished she could have been in “Human Again,” one of the few numbers in Beauty and the Beast in which Belle is not onstage, while Dandridge chose “I Know the Truth” from Aida, and “Everything I Am” from Tarzan. In addition to “Feed the Birds,” of which Mary Poppins only sings a portion in the stage musical, Brown chose “Baby Mine” from Dumbo. Iglehart mentioned that he has sang “Me,” Gaston’s gloriously self-involved solo from Beauty and the Beast, in auditions more than any other song, while Murin chose the role of shopkeeper Oaken in Frozen.

It was Borle, though, who had the most heartfelt response to the question, which he sweetly address to his fellow panel member, Susan Egan, to a chorus of “awws” from the audience. “In college, my buddies and I used to skip class and watch (Beauty and the Beast) on VHS.” When he finally saw the Broadway production – starring Egan, at the time – “I loved it so much. You were so wonderful. All I wanted to be was the Beast. I still want to be the Beast.”

The Disney Films They Need To See Onstage
We at ShowTickets have covered both Disney films fans need to see on Broadway and those already rumored to be in development on Broadway stage, and the panelists gave us some additional ideas. Their picks?

Hercules…that’s the one.” – Susan Egan
Pocahontas.” – Merle Dandridge
Snow White, original orchestrations.” – Ashley Brown
Tangled.” – Christian Borle
The Nightmare Before Christmas.” – James Monroe Iglehart
Tangled/Hercules.” – Patti Murin

What Disney Means to Them
When a fan posed the question, these Disney stars invariably responded that they had been lifelong Disney fans, and that working on these shows has been a dream come true. “I’m the biggest Disney nerd,” said Iglehart. Similarly, Dandridge added, “Disney was my everything growing up.” She teared up when attempting to explain the manner in which Schumacher has taken care of the cast.

“It’s reliably brilliant, whole storytelling,” added Borle. “…You always know you’re in good hands.”∎

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in January 2019

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