So Disney’s takeover of 21st Century-Fox is sealed at a cost of $71 billion. What, I wonder, will this mean theatrically? Disney’s own theatrical arm, Disney Theatrical Group, are producers of highly-successful screen to stage adaptations of Disney properties such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Aladdin and others. In terms of film studios adapting their own works, Disney is by far the most successful, focussing as they have on musicals, mostly animated, which is of course the area in which Disney has been an industry leader since the 1930s.
Perhaps with this major acquisition we shall see more stage musical versions of Fox film properties. They certainly have the material. Don’t forget, 20th Century-Fox was one of the foremost exponents of the vibrant Technicolor Musical in the early 1940s, easily rivalling fellow majors Paramount and even MGM in terms of budget, spectacle and quality. Legendary “42nd Street” director/drillmeister Busby Berkeley, in “The Gangs All Here” (see the Blu Ray for the most sumptuous colour you have ever bathed in), giving us a memorable (and a little bit trippy) routine with neon hula hoops in the dark, as well as the unique Carmen Miranda jauntily sporting a hat the size of the Empire State building made entirely of fruit; now there’s a challenge for any stage designer!
Many other hit movies (including all of the Marilyn Monroe vehicles) seem to be sitting there just waiting to be developed. Of course, many of them originated as stage works, others as book or short stories. Fox’s art house label, Fox Searchlight, similarly has a string of intriguing titles which have the potential to hit the stage profitably.
Fox was late to the Broadway party. After years of simply licensing out properties, in 2013 they took a more active role, collaborating with major Broadway producer Kevin McCollum (producer of Motown, Rent, In The Heights, amongst others) on bringing their film works to the stage. Fox Stage Productions have developed stage versions (in various degrees of production) including The Devil Wears Prada, Mrs Doubtfire and Father of the Bride, as well as the stage version of All About Eve, currently playing in London starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James (co-produced by Sonia Friedman).
Stage is much cheaper to produce than film, with greater potential returns and longevity for a big hit. In London, for example, The Lion King has achieved substantially advanced prices in a 2000-seater house, consistently, for twenty years (this October). The comparative price of a theatre ticket versus a movie ticket (in the UK, at least 5 to 1 in favour of theatre) also plays its part in the financials.
What would I like to see? Well how about a musical version of How To Marry A Millionaire, starring Summer Strallen, Louise Dearman and Sheila Atim, and the boys Tyrone Huntley, Gabriel Vick, Michael Xavier and (a dream) Robert Morse as J D Hanley.
Perhaps you have your own ideas of what shows from Fox you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments below…
It will naturally take time for the identification, development and the hard work of turning possibilities into actual slated projects, but I feel certain that Disney’s global success and ambition will help many historic Fox properties to realise their future stage potential and reach wider audiences.