Disney Closes ‘Frozen’ on Broadway, Citing Coronavirus Pandemic

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Originally published on NYT – Media on 2020 05 14 by Michael Paulson https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/14/theater/frozen-broadway-closing-virus.html

Theater|Disney Closes ‘Frozen’ on Broadway, Citing Pandemic


Disney Closes ‘Frozen’ on Broadway, Citing Pandemic

The show is the first Broadway musical felled by the coronavirus.

Caissie Levy as Elsa in the original Broadway cast of “Frozen.”
Caissie Levy as Elsa in the original Broadway cast of “Frozen.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Even Queen Elsa’s magic is no match for the coronavirus pandemic.

Disney Theatrical Productions said Thursday that its stage adaptation of “Frozen” will not reopen on Broadway once the pandemic eases, making the musical the first to be felled by the current crisis.

“Frozen” had been the weakest of the three Disney musicals that had been running on Broadway — the others were “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” — and the company made it clear that it does not believe audiences will return in substantial enough numbers to sustain all of those shows.

“This difficult decision was made for several reasons but primarily because we believe that three Disney productions will be one too many titles to run successfully in Broadway’s new landscape,” Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical Productions, said in a letter to his staff.

Schumacher said the company remains committed to “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” on Broadway, to “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” in London’s West End, and to touring productions of “The Lion King” and “Frozen” in North America and “The Lion King” in Britain. The company, which around the world had 29 shows either running or in preproduction earlier this year, has already cut short a North American touring production of “Aladdin” because of the pandemic, closing it six weeks early after a nearly three-year, 41-city run.

“Frozen,” which cost an estimated $25 million to $30 million to produce, arrived on Broadway in 2018 with high hopes because it was adapted from an enormously popular animated film. But the stage adaptation received unenthusiastic reviews from key critics and was shut out at the Tony Awards; its weekly grosses peaked at $2.6 million, but by February were averaging about $1 million.

The decision to close “Frozen” earlier than anticipated is a reminder that the pandemic is likely to alter the theatrical landscape, forcing producers to reassess the financial viability of long-planned projects because of expected challenges attracting audiences and investors.

Already two planned productions have been scrapped: a new Martin McDonagh play called “Hangmen” and a revival of the Edward Albee classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Both had begun previews, but neither had yet opened, when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 500 people, prompting the shuttering of all Broadway theaters, on March 12.

And this week, after the Broadway League said performances would not resume before Labor Day, the producers of two other Broadway shows planned for this spring and summer — a revival of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, and “MJ,” a new biomusical about Michael Jackson — said they would delay their shows until next spring.

The “Frozen” closing is symbolically important because Disney is not only deep-pocketed but also plays an outsize role in contemporary Broadway. The company’s 1994 agreement to take over Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater was a pivotal moment in the rebirth of Times Square; “The Lion King” is the top-grossing Broadway show of all time, and Schumacher not only runs Disney Theatrical but also serves as chairman of the Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners.

ImageDisney said it is committed to reopening the Broadway productions of “The Lion King,” shown here, as well as “Aladdin.”
Disney said it is committed to reopening the Broadway productions of “The Lion King,” shown here, as well as “Aladdin.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But the Walt Disney Co., with its heavy reliance on theme parks and movie studios, has taken a financial drubbing. The theatrical division, headquartered in New York, has furloughed many employees, as have many other divisions of the company.

Schumacher, intent on demonstrating that Disney plans to stay in the theater business, said in his letter that “we remain committed to developing and producing stage musicals for a long time to come.”

He outlined a number of newish projects for the company, none of them aimed at Broadway. A new production of “Beauty and the Beast,” with the same creative team that worked on the 1994 original, is slated to open overseas next spring and in the United States in 2022, and the company is working on a new, smaller, touring production of “Aladdin.”

He said the company has also begun work on two new musicals adapted from Disney films: “The Jungle Book” will be directed by Christopher Gattelli with a book by Rajiv Joseph and new songs by Richard Sherman. And “Hercules,” directed by Lear deBessonet, will be written by Robert Horn, Alan Menken and David Zippel, expanded from a version that ran last year at New York’s Delacorte Theater under the auspices of the Public Theater.

A new production of the musical “Aida,” directed by Schele Williams, aims to open in Germany in the spring of 2022.

Schumacher also said Disney is developing musical adaptations of “The Princess Bride,” with a book by Bob Martin and Rick Elice and songs by David Yazbek, as well as “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, with a book by Brian Hill and new songs by Neil Bartram.

“Frozen,” loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called “The Snow Queen,” is about a princess, Elsa, with the magical power to create ice and snow, and her sister, Anna.

The musical, directed by Michael Grandage, played 26 previews and 825 regular performances through what turned out to be its final show on March 11 at the St. James Theater. Over the course of its run, it grossed $155 million and was seen by 1.3 million patrons.

It was slightly revised earlier this year, and the company believes that, fueled by the enormous popularity of the original film and its sequel, it will fare well outside New York.

Not only does Disney plan to resume the North American tour of “Frozen” once theaters open, but Schumacher also said he plans to open additional “Frozen” productions over the next year in London, Sydney, Hamburg and Tokyo. Disney said one reason for announcing the Broadway closing now is that it would allow the company to reuse the costumes and scenic elements in those other productions.

Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing performers and stage managers, expressed alarm about the closing. “Today’s news should be an all hands on deck moment for Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Congress,” Mary McColl, the union’s executive director, said in a statement. “Public officials at all levels must think much more boldly about supporting the arts or our entire economy will be slower to recover.”

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