SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Drink With Disney Theatrical President Thomas Schumacher

By Robert Simonson
28 Apr 2013

Thomas Schumacher
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Schumacher has a busy year ahead of him. Disney's stage adaptation of the 1992 animated film Aladdin will play a pre-Broadway engagement at Toronto's Mirvish Theatre this fall prior to a Broadway bow at the New Amsterdam Theatre in 2014. Around the same time, following its Chicago premiere this summer at the Goodman Theatre, Mary Zimmerman's new musical adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book will open the 2013-14 season at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company.

Meanwhile, he has tended, in recent months, to a few landmark occasions concerning existing shows. In March Mary Poppins closed at the New Amsterdam after more than six years. "I did a yacky-yacky thing on the stage," at the final performance, he said. "Forty of the children who have played Jane and Michael Banks came. Some of them are in college now, which is sweet. It's adorable."

But that's not the end of Mary Poppins, for, it seems, the door never quite closes on any Disney stage property. "I was just at the opening of Mary Poppins in Mexico in November," he remarked. Aida left Broadway back in 2004 and has seldom been thought of in this town since. But, he will remind you, the show has never stopped being produced around the world.

The same certainly goes for The Lion King, which celebrated it 15th anniversary on Broadway last November, and remains Disney Theatrical's most prolific success by far. There are nine productions of it running around the world, including a recently opened one in Brazil. This fall, the number will rise to ten, with an Australian staging added. The show has the sort of international reach that when you ask Schumacher how many actors have played Simba, he'll reply, "In English?"

"I've worked on Lion King every week of my life for 22-and-a-half years," said the preternaturally youthful Schumacher, who doesn't look old enough to have been a working adult for that long. "I started on the movie. I got hired by Disney to produce an animated movie in 1987. At that time, there was nobody else making animated movies. 'Roger Rabbit' is what made animation hip again." He began work on the film "The Lion King" in 1990, and it premiered to great acclaim in 1994. The stage show bowed in 1998, and the rest is history.

Like its long-running neighbor, The Phantom of the Opera, the show has provided a regular home for some actors. "People come and go in it," said Schumacher. "For example, Alton Fitzgerald White, who was Mufasa on the road, then came to Broadway, then left to The Color Purple, then did Mufasa in Las Vegas, then came back to Broadway where he's playing Mufasa now." (Schumacher rattles off these feats of memory regularly. When asked how he remembers such minutiae, he replies, "It's my job.")