It feels like each day holds amazing Disney history. And on this day in 1998, Beauty and the Beast performed its 1,762 show on Broadway, making it the longest running production to play at the New York City Palace Theater!
Original poster for Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.
The film Beauty and the Beast (1991) featured iconic music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Critics praised the film and immediately noticed the potential the score had for a live musical. The New York Times critic Frank Rich famously praised the songwriting duo for writing what he called “the best Broadway score of 1991.” Disney’s then CEO Micheal Eisner took the heaps of praise given to the film and used it to green-light a live musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.
Critics immediately noticed the Broadway potential in the 1991 film. | © Disney
The musical opened three years later on April 18, 1994. The creative team featured director Robert Jess Roth, choreographer Matt West, scenic designer Stan Myer, and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward. Susan Egan, known for providing the voice of both Meg in Hercules and Rose Quartz in Steven Universe, played Belle; and Terrence Mann, the original Rum Tum Tugger in the musical Cats, played the Beast.
Susan Egan and Terrence Mann as the titular characters. | © Disney Enterprises Inc.
The show opened to negative reviews, the New York Times summing up the experience as "hardly a triumph of art, but it'll probably be a whale of a tourist attraction." Despite the harsh criticism, the show was an incredible commercial success. Beauty and the Beast ran at the Palace Theater until September 5, 1999, garnering 2,196 performances. The production then transferred to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it ran for another 3,265 performances. The show closed in 2007 and was replaced by another Disney musical, The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast is currently the 10th longest running Broadway musical of all time.
Fun Facts about Beauty and the Beast on Broadway!
Beauty and the Beast has been reproduced in over 30 different countries, including Argentina, the Philippines, Spain, Germany, and Japan. The original Australian production featured Hugh Jackman as Gaston!
An NPR study conducted in 2018 showed that Beauty and the Beast was the most performed musical among high school productions.
The original production was nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1994, and received one for costume design. Ann Hould-Ward based her designs both on the animated film, and the Rococo art style.
17 different actresses portrayed Belle throughout the production’s run, including Christy Carlson Romano, known for her roles in the Disney shows Even Stevens and Kim Possible, and Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway Annie. When pop singer Toni Braxton took on the role in 1998, she was the first African American to portray the Disney princess. Alan Menken and Tim Rice wrote the song "A Change in Me" specifically for the R&B star, which was added to the show permanently after she left the production.
To coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the films release, Disney Theatrical announced that there would be an updated revival of Beauty and the Beast coming to Broadway. Though no other information has been announced, the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey produced a Broadway star studded production, and the theater has been home to many Broadway bound musicals. Could this lavish production be brought to Broadway later this year? We sure hope so!
Disney has had incredible success in the Broadway business. What classic animated film would you like to see become a musical?