Look at where The Mouse likes to “Play.”

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was coming up, was from an ol’ school Broadway Producer after I asked for his advice on how to have a successful career in this . . . ahem . . . “unique” industry.

His response?

“Ken, life is an open book test.”

What he meant by that was to look around . . . and learn from those people and companies that have had the success you’re strivin’ for and learn from what they’ve done to get where they are today.

One of the companies that I watch pretty closely is The Mouse House, more affectionately known as Disney.  Here’s a company that has birthed seven Broadway productions (with an 8th, Aladdin, on its way to the delivery room), and five of them have not only recouped but recouped and then some.

Sure, sure, recoupment is a crap-ton easier when you’ve got brands the size of theirs, and movies to go along with them, as I talked about in my blog about why Lion King grossed a billion bucks.  And there’s no takeaway to learn from that except, “Go forth and make cartoons and then theme parks and movies and then fifty years later, conquer Broadway!”

But there is still a double crap-ton to learn from their smaller strategy decisions, like customer service (as I wrote about here detailing their new game-changing exchange policy).

And today, I turn to how they develop new Broadway musicals, and more specifically where their path to Broadway begins.

I’ve got some musicals that are just seeds of an idea right now, that will soon be sitting on a page, and soon after will need to stand up on a stage.

Because musicals are so dang difficult to put together in all aspects, artistically, technically and economically, most shows have tryout productions prior to their Broadway run.

In fact, 85.35% of all new musicals to open on Broadway in the last 20 years had out-of-town tryouts. 

So I started thinking about where to put them.  And of course, the wonderful “usual suspects” of regional theaters come to mind.  But then I decided to open up the open book of life and see what Disney does.

Take a look at this list of all their Broadway shows (past, current and future) and where they started:

  • Beauty and the Beast – The Music Hall, Houston, TX
  • The Lion King – Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
  • Aida – Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Berlin, Germany
  • Tarzan – No Tryout
  • Mary Poppins – Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol, England
  • The Little Mermaid  – Denver Center for the Performing ArtsDenver, CO
  • Newsies  – Papermill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
  • Aladdin – 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle, WA
  • The Jungle Book – The Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, and The Huntington Theatre, Boston, MA

Do you see what I see?

When Disney has a new property, they tend to go somewhere a little less obvious, just slightly around the bend, that most likely isn’t known for being a Broadway launching pad (The Alliance has lit the fuse for a lot of Broadway shows, but they were all after Aida).  Why?

  • You’re out of the spotlight, and for a company like Disney, with brands the size of small European nations, that’s important.
  • There’s more of a supportive excitement from the audience and the community.
  • Things tend to be a little cheaper.
  • There’s less expectation.

I know all of these reasons and then some were why I went to Chris Coleman’s Portland Center Stage for Somewhere in Time.  

But now that I’ve peeked into the mind of the mouse, just by watching how it has moved, I’m going to be looking into doing it a bit more often.

Because observing the success of others is a fantastic way to guarantee your own.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Besides Tarzan, what are the other 22 new musicals that didn’t have Broadway tryouts in the last 20 years?  Answer Monday!


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.