The Disney Channel has earned a reputation for scouting and fostering the next big entertainers. Since Disney often features musical numbers in their television shows and films, their performers have to be able to sing, dance and act. So it is no surprise that a number of them have solidified their triple threat status on the Broadway stage, while others began their careers on stage before rocking the Mouse ears. Who made it to the Great White Way, and where are they now?
One of the most popular teenage psychics is no other than Raven Symoné. What millennial didn't love Disney's television series "That's So Raven"? Even though the protagonist, Raven Baxter, attempted to use her psychic powers with the best of intentions, her schemes somehow always got her in to trouble. But the messes she made were never lasting because she had the charm, humor, and friends to help her out of any sticky situation. Before she made her big break with Disney she played memorable parts in other family favorites like "The Cosby Show" and "Dr. Doolittle." And, in the Disney Channel's "Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century," Symoné co-starred as Nebula Wade with pigtails and shiny neon pink tights that were all the fashion in faraway galaxies. Soon after, the world noticed her vocals when she joined The Cheetah Girls, an all-American female pop group that performed onstage and in films.
Then she hit it big on Broadway! Reminiscent of her previous roles of mischief, glamour, and sass, Symoné starred in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act in 2012. Deloris takes the convent by storm when she modernizes the choir with soulful tunes that are inspired by her real identity as a nightclub singer. Since then, she continues to be a household name in the Disney family, acting as the voice of Iridessa the light fairy in all seven parts of the animated "Tinker Bell" series and in the mega-hit cartoon, "Kim Possible." She also appeared in n FOX's drama series "Empire" this past year in the recurring role of Olivia, a mysteriously vindictive ex-lover who threatens to shake the family business.
Anneliese van der Pol, Raven Baxter's sitcom sidekick, also earned her Broadway stripes after a supporting role as bestie to Raven — in "That's So Raven." A veteran of the stage, Anneliese began a career in musical theatre before she worked with Disney. At the age of 15 she impressively starred in the title character of Evita at Buena Park Civic Theatre, reportedly making her the youngest actress to ever play the role professionally. Soon after, her depiction of Laurey in Oklahoma! at Austin Musical Theatre was enough to earn her nominations for two awards. Considering her early success as a theatre actress, perhaps she was destined for Broadway! Disney capitalized on her singing talents by casting her in recordings of various classics, like "The Circle of Life (which Raven was also a part of)," "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "Candle on the Water." The happiest place on Earth must have loved her since she went on to play Belle on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast in 2007. After belting on Broadway, Anneliese hasn't looked back into the camera much. She has continued her theatre career regionally at Arizona Theatre Company as Gwendolyn Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest and as the career-driven flapper, Millie Dillmount, of Thoroughly Modern Millie, at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, TX.
A couple years before Anneliese reined as the Beauty, another Disney actress wore the princess crown on Broadway — Christy Carlson Romano. Flashing back a few years, the Disney Channel kept her busy with three projects that ran simultaneously. She starred opposite Shia LaBeouf in the comedic sitcom "Even Stevens," in which they played siblings — him being immature and selfish and her being the perfectionist and over-achiever. Sounds a bit like Belle, doesn't it? She also paired up with famous Disney actress Hilary Duff in the film "Cadet Kelly" in 2002 and she was the voice of the crime-fighting cartoon, Kim Possible. Even with a busy calendar, Christy wasn't a Broadway newbie. Beauty and the Beast was actually Christy's second time on the Great White Way — her debut was in the original production of Parade in 1998 when she played Mary Phagan, the young victim of a violent murder. She has since added puppetry to her resume with the naughty furries and monsters of Avenue Q. Of all the characters in Avenue Q, Kate Monster would be the most PG, which seems appropriate for a former Disney principal.
While many have paved the way, the most recent Disney-to-Broadway triple threat is Vanessa Hudgens, who starred in the titular role of this past year's revival of Gigi. Before that, she was most widely known as the new girl on campus, Gabriella Montez, in Disney's "High School Musical." Her character is the shy bookworm who falls in love with Troy (played by Zac Efron), the stereotypical jock. Despite their opposing paths, they find a way to beat the odds allowing musical comedy and romance to flourish in the best of ways. In Gigi, Hudgens similarly played a wide-eyed young woman who is growing up on her own terms. That's not to say that Vanessa isn't a diverse actress. She may have surprised fans and parents alike when she co-starred in "Spring Breakers" with James Franco and fellow Disney alum Selena Gomez. Similarly, her role in the film "Gimme Shelter" (2013) was an even further departure from Disney-friendly content as she told the story of a pregnant teenager abandoned on the streets.
The Disney Channel has a great knack for discovering the freshest talent when it comes to character acting, which is required for children's shows. Broadway productions, especially musical comedies, are a natural transition for actors who excel at this kind of performance because they cater to larger than life characters and a shining stage presence. Plus, Disney music is so closely intertwined with that classic Broadway sound. One can expect many more Disney stars to bring down the house in the future.