Disney Theatrical Celebrates 25th Anniversary On Broadway

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Clinton Greenspan in Aladdin, Adrienne Walker in The Lion King and Ryann Redmond in Frozen. (Photos by Deen van Meer)

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” said Walt Disney. To some, the impossible may mean taking a classical Disney animated film and bringing it to life. But to others, it’s all about spreading that Disney magic to a bigger platform. From Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan, Disney has made its mark on the streets of Manhattan. Currently experiencing a Renaissance on Broadway, Disney is making magic with Aladdin, The Lion King and Frozen. During the special anniversary year, Aladdin and The Lion King have released their live action films and Frozen’s sequel is set to be released in November. And they’re not done yet.

The Pride of Broadway

Adrienne Walker as Nala and The Lion King ensemble (Photo by Deen van Meer)

It’s hard to believe that a movie about animals inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet made its Disney debut in 1994. It is even harder to believe that said movie has retained a residence on Broadway for the past two decades. The Lion King premiered at the Minskoff Theatre on Nov. 13, 1997, and since then, it has become the most popular show on the Great White Way. It also debuted its live action counterpart in theaters this past July. For Adrienne Walker (on the cover), who plays Nala, the story truly is about the circle of her life.

“I grew up in Georgia and sang in my church choir. My plan was always to sing opera, but after going to grad school in Chicago, I decided to pursue musical theater instead,” said Walker, who landed a role in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, leading her onstage career to take off. “After that, I did Dreamgirls, Dirty Dancing and some other shows in the Chicago area, but I was still green.”

While on tour with Dirty Dancing, Walker received the call about an audition for The Lion King. She was on a flight back to Dirty Dancing and was only allowed to miss two shows, so she sent in her audition tape, cobbled together with the help of several friends. She got the job.

“Being a part of this cast and the legacy that is Disney has changed my life,” said Walker, who spoke about the connectivity between the two films and stage performance. “All of the key parts that make you love the original story, the relationship that Simba has with his father, which is endearing, the tragedy of his death, it’s all there, just done with the aid of puppetry, which opens the audience’s mindset.”

The visual experience of puppetry makes everything come alive, a sort of magic that the production crew has mastered over the years.

“I love that the music is fully realized, with the addition of some news songs as well and it just elevates the voice at the beginning of the show in such a beautiful way,” said Walker. “I’ve been here almost three years and I will never get sick of listening to ‘Grasslands’ or ‘Lioness’ or ‘He Lives in You’ because there’s something so grounded, beautiful and magical about them and I think that’s what was merged into the live action film; the merging of animation and Broadway.”

For Walker, being a part of The Lion King is all about connecting to the piece and to the people. She says that Nala is a fighter, who is met with obstacles that she doesn’t think she can conquer, similar to the path Walker has chosen.

“The path I’ve chosen was pretty unlikely and it’s an industry that requires a lot hard work and determination” she said, noting that she could have given up auditioning for a different career, but believed her dream would one day be realized. “Be who you are, be courteous and be thankful and people will see that.”

No matter what form you see it in, The Lion King is a story that has the power to reach anyone. It is a tale of love, family, heartbreak and friendship that is inspiring to all who can appreciate the circle of life.

It Started With a Lamp

Michael James Scott as Genie (Photo by Deen van Meer)

While the live-action film debuted in May 2019, the Broadway production of Aladdin celebrated five years on Broadway in March. Since then, it has been a colorful whirlwind of song and dance, dazzling costumes and one comical genie. Clinton Greenspan (on the cover) assumed the title role of Aladdin in September and has enjoyed his transformation from street rat to Prince Ali.

“I’ve been on the tour since the beginning, but did Aladdin full-time in 2018 in Denver,” said Greenspan, who has spent time on the road for the past 2½ years. “It was one of the best life journey’s I’ve encountered.”

Greenspan credits his grandparents for his love of the arts.

“They always had records playing or were watching operas on VHS tapes. They loved classical movies and had such a passion for the arts,” he said, adding that he studied at KD Conservatory. “I took classes for fun because I needed an activity after school so I studied tap, ballet and improv and fell in love with it, especially the community aspect of it all.”

When compared to the original cartoon and live-action film, Greenspan said that Aladdin on Broadway is the same story, but with a few fun, additional elements. Although there is no Abu or Raja, taking their place are Aladdin and Jasmine’s friends, which adds a sense of reality to the audience. When asked about his favorite song, Greenspan said that personally, he is a fan of “Proud of Your Boy.”

“It’s a moment where Aladdin talks to his mom who passed away. I dedicate that song to my mom at every show,” said Greenspan, who says he relates to his character. “Aladdin is a very naïve, but intellectual person and he understands that his actions may not be the most professional and mature actions, but he has good intentions.”

From a full-blown stage performance of “Friend Like Me” to an intimate magic carpet ride midair while singing “A Whole New World,” Greenspan said that it has been such a journey to not only find the character of Aladdin, but himself as well.

“There’s a lot of intimidation, but to have this opportunity is amazing so it’s been really exciting to join the Aladdin family on Broadway,” he said.

And if Greenspan had three wishes, he would ask for an endless supply of vinyl records; the knowledge of how to cook a steak and to help as many people feel seen as much as possible.

Let It Go

Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen (Photo by Saint)

“Standing frozen in the life I’ve chosen,” may be among the lyrics in the iconic song “Let It Go,” but Frozen on Broadway is anything but stillness. Sparkling since its debut in 2018, Frozen has captured the hearts of audiences with every Swarovski crystal- infused performance. And with a film that’s all about girl power, it’s a pretty big deal that Ryann Redmond (on the cover) is the first female to take on the role of Olaf.

“I was fearless as a kid, which lead me to try out for the musical Annie. I got the role of Mr. Bundles the laundry man and was devastated because I thought I would be Annie,” said the Georgia native. “Little did I know, it foreshadowed my current career, playing a role originally played by a man.”

In high school, Redmond truly blossomed in the theater, where she realized that she loved to make people laugh. After attending NYU for three years, Redmond’s junior year of college led her to join the tour of Bring It On in 2011 before moving to Broadway in 2012. She has also performed in Escape to Margaritaville, and If, Then with another Frozen alum, Idina Menzel, leading her to get some one-on-one experience.

“I loved the movie. I was doing If, Then with Idina and we did an out-of-town try out when the film first came out so I got to experience that in real time with her,” said Redmond of Menzel, who rented out an entire theater for the whole cast to watch the movie.

On portraying everyone’s summer-loving snowman, Redmond said that it came as an unexpected surprise but has been very cool—pun intended.

“I thought it was a mistake but my agent said that they asked for me. Rachel Hoffman is a big casting director and she has cast me in a lot of shows,” said Redmond, noting that it was refreshing to see that Disney was willing to “spice it up.” “Olaf is a cartoon character, so there’s no need for him to be played by a boy or girl, I’m simply giving my voice to him.”

With free reign to come up with her own version of the beloved character, Redmond said she relates to Olaf, both sharing sarcasm and sass.

“I love his curiosity and how exciting he finds everything. I would like to implement that into my own life more,” she said. “I love his free spirit.”

Of her favorite moments in the show, Redmond, of course, loves “In Summer,” and Olaf’s reprise of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” She also loves when the entire cast sings “Let It Go” together. It’s moments like those that only Disney can create.

“Twenty-five years of Disney on Broadway proves what Disney has the ability to do: capture the magic, whimsy and childlike energy time and time again,” said Redmond. “The ‘Let Yourself Go’ ad campaign is the perfect moment to come to the theater and forget about anything that is going on in your world. Just let the magic of Disney bring you back to what it felt like to be a child.”

For more information about Disney on Broadway and to see these classic shows, visit www.lionking.com, www.aladdinthemusical.com and www.frozenthemusical.com.

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