It’s been eighteen months, but Broadway is finally open again, and Disney fans can return to New York to see “The Lion King”, “Aladdin”, and “Frozen”! “The Lion King” can be seen at the Minskoff Theatre starting this week, while “Aladdin” is opening on September 28th at the New Amsterdam Theatre and “Frozen” is already running at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo, New York. A touring version of “The Lion King” will also be unveiled on October 1st (just in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebrations to begin!) at the Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. And while Disney fans are understandably excited to see the three amazing Disney musicals on stage again, the cast of the shows themselves have expressed excitement too! Read on to learn what they had to say in an interview with D23 about the reopenings.
Brandon A. McCall, who is making his Broadway debut as Simba, spoke to Disney23 about the anticipation leading up to opening night. “It’s a very surreal moment, but I’m excited to be on this journey…hearing Rafiki’s call in the opening number, ‘Circle of Life,’ and experiencing that feeling again and the audience’s reaction.” Adrienne Walker, who plays Nala, added that being onstage in a Disney musical during a pandemic and brightening audience members’ days is “a tremendous opportunity”.
For anyone who’s eager to rejoin the theater community and see “The Lion King”, McCall says, “We are back and can’t wait to see you. Please come join us and enjoy the magic in a safe space.” “There is nothing like performing for a live audience,” Walker confirmed happily. “The energy a live audience gives us as performers is everything. I can only imagine what re-opening will be like. I feel so blessed that I get to experience this.”
“I’ve missed telling this story. I’ve missed my backstage companions. I’ve missed meeting people at the stage door,” she continued, and according to her costar McCall, “Fans can expect to ‘feel the Disney love tonight!’”
Aladdin also has newcomers on its roster as it gears up for a reopening: Michael Maliakel is debuting as Aladdin, and Shoba Narayan is joining the show as Jasmine.
“In my mind, Disney and Broadway go hand in hand,” Maliakel proclaimed. “The Disney animated films were my introduction to storytelling, especially storytelling through song. For me, Disney coming back to Broadway means nostalgia, spectacle, and fun. It also means telling diverse stories authentically and inclusively so that audiences feel that the magic of Disney is for everyone.”
The Aladdin stars are just as thrilled as The Lion King’s actors to be back performing. “I can’t wait to hear the orchestra’s first notes of the overture, and the crowd’s cheers of excitement when the curtain rises for the first time,” Narayan said. “I get chills thinking about it. I think our first performance will feel electric!”
All of the actors also acknowledged the particular significance of theater and storytelling during a pandemic. “If there’s a silver lining to be found in this prolonged hiatus from theater, I think it’s that we —actors, backstage folks, audience members—are all going to celebrate every single performance with deep, profound gratitude,” Maliakel said thoughtfully. “Audiences can expect all the beauty and spectacle you know Disney always delivers, but be prepared for a new, electric kind of energy from performers who are more excited than ever to get back on stage.”
Narayan also recognized the significance of the moment. “To be able to bring the magic of Disney back to Broadway after this ‘intermission’ means a lot to me. We are living in a troubling time, and to be part of something that brings audiences joy, laughter, and a moment to reflect is not lost on me. I believe Disney on Broadway has the power to be a huge part of that healing experience” she continued. “I look forward to taking audiences with us to a wondrous place, full of light and possibility.”
While shows like “Hamilton” and “Wicked” are also returning to the stage, the last Disney musical in the lineup is “Frozen“! The cast are reprising their roles (Caroline Bowman as Elsa, Caroline Innerbichler as Anna, and Austin Colby as Hans), and Elsa’s Bowman confirmed that she’s ecstatic about returning. “Disney shows are like no other,” she said. “Experiencing a Disney show and being in one are equally magical experiences. Watching the magic unfold from the audience is incredible because Disney truly knows how to make magic happen on stage. And as company members, it’s our job to make sure all that magic seamlessly happens. It’s so much fun,” she went on enthusiastically. “Playing Elsa is more magical than I could have even imagined, so I’m excited to step back into her shoes. Also, feeling the audience’s energy on that first night back is going to be thrilling and something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
Caroline Innerbichler is just as excitable as her character, Anna, when it comes to Frozen’s return. “I can’t wait to hear the sounds of the theater before the performance begins,” she said in the interview with D23. “When I’m waiting backstage in the final moments before the curtain goes up, I can hear the murmurs of the audience—hundreds of conversations happening in one big, beautiful room, the sounds of the orchestra tuning their instruments, maybe playing over a few melodies from the score. It’s the sound of anticipation, this gentle hum of a sound that is so unique to live theater. It really feels sacred to me.”
F. Michael Haynie, who plays Olaf, also made a point of mentioning “how hard so many people have worked to provide for their families and keep others safe in this time. To the first responders, doctors, nurses, essential workers, scientists, lab workers, and everyone working to help the world get through this crisis, this is only possible because of you. So, we are looking forward to performing for them.”
Austin Colby, the actor who plays Hans, also agreed that this is a momentous moment in Broadway’s history. “Like so many people throughout this pandemic, I thirst for human connection,” he stated. “There is nothing like the electricity felt from a live audience.”
“While we as artists can’t erase the last year and a half, we can maybe provide some catharsis, some comfort, and beautifully crafted entertainment that comes from our hearts—all for these communities that have been through so much,” Innerbichler mused. “I hope to give them an evening of laughter, light, and excitement they so deserve.”
Frozen’s North American tour “will follow all of the CDC, local, state, and city health and safety guidelines, as well as all union protocols”. “We’re all working hard every day to bring you this incredible production of Frozen as safely as possible,” Haynie told D23. “So, get your outfits ready, along with some nice masks—Disney-themed, if you got ’em—and get ready for Olaf and those other folks to come to your hometowns for some live theatre!” Are you excited to see Broadway in action again?