Princesses on Broadway

I was appalled to learn that the beautiful Broadway actress, Diana Huey, was dealing with disgusting racist comments about being an Asian American cast in the role of my favorite princess in the touring production of The Little Mermaid. The play had a short-lived run on Broadway in 2007 before several songs were cut and a few were added for the tour. Diana is one of many women to portray Ariel, but one of very few women of color to do so. A few days ago, she wrote a beautiful Facebook post highlighting her concerns on the matter, which made me love her even more. I think she makes a beautiful mermaid princess. The Broadway stage is notoriously color blind. It values singing, dancing, and acting skills above all else. Princesses come in all colors, shapes and sizes.


Princess stories have a long history of being portrayed onstage. One of the most famous productions is Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which debuted as a live TV special starring Julie Andrews in 1957.  The show had a long series of stage tours both on and off Broadway, including a recent revival that's still going today. Its soundtrack features such classic songs as "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible," and "Ten Minutes Ago," many of which are catchier and more powerful than the tunes from Disney's 1950 animated classic. In 1997, the production was converted to a made-for-TV movie featuring a rainbow of talented actors and actresses of color, including Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, and Whoopi Goldberg as the queen.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's show is one of the few fairy tales on Broadway that was not converted from a Disney movie. The Disney era of the great white way began in 1994 with Beauty and the Beast, starring the enormously talented Susan Egan as Belle. After her successful run on Broadway, Susan went on to do the voice of Megara in Disney's 1996 animated feature, Hercules. Another skilled princess actress to portray Belle on Broadway was Kerry Butler, the voice actress of Princess Gwenevere in the first season. A little known fact is that Kerry also recorded the demo soundtrack of The Little Mermaid. She was in the running to debut the role, but it was given to Sierra Boggess instead. Considering that most princesses are skilled singers with beautiful voices, it's little surprise that many of them have a background in Broadway.

Another Disney Princess of color from the stage is Aida. It debuted on Broadway in 1998 with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, who had previously worked together on The Lion King in 1995, which was also adapted into a Broadway play. Aida was the only Disney play that was not based on one of their films. It told the story of a Nubian princess and her forbidden love with an Egyptian prince, whose father has her people held captive. The play had a rather bittersweet ending, which is uncommon for Disney. It was a good show with solid songs.

In 2003, princess fans everywhere fell in love with the a wicked witch in the legendary show, Wicked. Based on the novel Gregory Maguire, which was a retelling of L. Frank Baums The Wizard of Oz, Wicked forces us to look beyond what's the outside to see the beauty within. Just like Diana Huey when she played Ariel onstage, Elphaba was ostracized for her green skin. She refused to conform to the standards that were expected of her and did what was right no mater what. Unlike her roommate, Galinda, who later changed her name to Glinda, Elphaba did not care what people thought of her. With music by Stephen Schwartz, who previous wrote the songs for Disney's Pocahontas, princess fans everywhere love to belt out "Defying Gravity," "Popular," and "For Good" alongside their favorite Disney Princess numbers. When designing Glinda's bubble dress, the show's producers asked little girls all of the things that they associate with a princess and incorporated their answers into the design.

Today, there are two new princess musicals on Broadway and one more in the works. Based on the 1992 Disney film of the same name, Aladdin hit the great white way in 2015.  Before the show hit Broadway, it used to be a 45-minute stage show at Disney's California Adventure. The stage show was incredibly beautiful and entertaining. It introduced a gorgeous new song for Jasmine, entitled "To Be Free," composed to a melody that already existed in the film's score. It was replaced very recently with a Frozen stage show. I have yet to see the Broadway version of Aladdin, but it doesn't have this song, and instead features a less inspired princess number called "Beyond These Palace Walls." Other musical numbers in the play are based on deleted songs from the original movie.

Joining Princess Jasmine on the Broadway scene is Anastasia, inspired by Don Bluth's breathtakingly gorgeous 1997 animated feature. The stage version cuts Rasputin out entirely along with his classic villain song, "In the Dark of the Nigh." In his place is Gleb, a Russian revolutionary determined to destroy the monarchy no matter what it takes. Gleb is very underwhelming as an antagonist compared to the hilarious and creepily undead Rasputin. From what I've seen, the story in the musical drags on and on and lacks many of the iconic scenes from the animated film. This is a common issue when it comes to stretching a 90-minute film into a two-act musical. Fortunately, the beloved princess songs "Journey to the Past" and "Once Upon a December" are still in tact.

Next in line for the stage is the Frozen musical, slated for a spring 2018 release. I'd like to think that this version of the show will be more loyal to its fairy tale roots, but I doubt it. Just as Frozen replaced the Aladdin show in Disney's California Adventure, it remains to be seen if it will also take its place on Broadway or if Jasmine and Anna will become best friends and perform in neighboring theaters. All we can do is let it go until we know for sure.

With its live musical numbers and elaborate costumes, Broadway is the perfect home for princesses of all nationalities. Seeing a play is a wonderful and immersive experience that doesn't compare to any other form of storytelling. So many of the princesses we know and love have gotten their start on the great white way, and there are sure to be many more in the future.

Comments

Such a wonderful "medley" of all these wonderful animated princesses on Broadway!

Two thoughts - when we saw The Little Mermaid in a local production she was played by an woman of Asian decent. Though we did see it in Westminster.

And still would have loved to see what Kerry could have done as Ariel, but Sierra did do an amazing job!

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