by Alice McNutt Miller
My husband, two pre-teen and teenage daughters and I recently planned to travel to New York City for the weekend to see one of my nieces play basketball for her college team. As with many of our vacations, we tried to work a little Disney magic into our itinerary. With three Disney musicals currently playing on Broadway, the question was not whether to go see one of the amazing Disney theatrical productions, but which one to choose. The Lion King, Mary Poppins or The Little Mermaid? We had seen The Lion King on stage in London last year during a spring break visit, so the decision came down to what the best deal would be for tickets for either Mary Poppins or The Little Mermaid.
Plan Ahead . . .
Seeing live theater in New York, particularly Broadway blockbusters, can be an expensive proposition. Securing discounted tickets for Broadway shows is where good planning (or not) comes into play. If you have only one date or time that you will be able to see a show, you should plan as far in advance as possible, and buy tickets ahead of time. The Disney website http://disney.go.com/theatre/index.html#/home has information on all of the shows, and links to purchase tickets. These links will take you to the Ticketmaster website, and to full-price tickets for each show. However, there may be discounts available, and with a bit of work, you may be able to find them.
As Disney Vacation Club members, we had been offered a special discount for certain shows, but unfortunately, I waited too long to act once our dates were set, and all of the seats with this discount were sold out. I did a web search for "Disney on Broadway discounts," and was able to find a code for discounts that were being offered for Mary Poppins, playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre, for the day and time that we wanted to see a show. By using that code on the Ticketmaster website, I was able to get a $35 discount on each of our tickets, allowing me to purchase tickets that were normally $86.50 for $51.50 (plus various surcharges, tax, etc.). Tickets are normally $121.50, $86.50, $61.50 and $31.50. Mary Poppins it was!
If you cannot plan ahead because your dates are not certain, you can always try the TKTS Discount Booth in New York on the day of the show. TKTS Discount Booths (run by the non-profit Theatre Development Fund) offer tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals and plays at up to 50% off of the box office prices. The Broadway location is located near Times Square in Father Duffy Square on Broadway and 47th Street. You can look at the TKTS information on the Theatre Development Fund websitewww.tdf.org ahead of time to see what was on sale last week, in order to get an idea of what might be available for your planned date. A number of Broadway shows have closed recently, which makes getting discount tickets a bit more difficult. According to the website, same-day discounted tickets are "never" available for The Lion King, and are "sometimes" available for The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. Hours for the Times Square ticket booth are Monday through Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sundays from 3:00 p.m. until one-half hour before the latest curtain time being sold for evening performances. For matinee performances the hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Plan to line up well in advance of showtime, particularly on weekends and holidays.
The New Amsterdam Theatre (214 West 42nd Street), along with the New Victory, Lyceum and Hudson theaters, is one of the oldest surviving legitimate theaters on Broadway. The theatre opened in 1903 with a production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Nights' Dream. Florenz Ziegfeld staged his Follies at the New Amsterdam from 1913 through 1927 (there are stories that the theater is still haunted by one of the Ziegfield dancers). In 1937 the New Amsterdam was converted to a movie house, and then it fell into disuse. The theater was purchased by the Nederlander Organization 1982, which planned to reconvert it back to its original use, piggybacking on the proposed redevelopment of the Times Square area. However, major structural problems, combined with the uncertainty of the City's economic health repeatedly delayed the reconstruction. New York State purchased the New Amsterdam in 1992 and subsequently resold it to the Walt Disney Co. for $29 million when Michael Eisner saw the theater's potential. The complete reconstruction of the theater between 1995 and 1997 signaled Disney's confidence in Times Square and anchored the further redevelopment of the area.
We arrived at the New Amsterdam Theatre at 1:00 p.m., half an hour prior to show time. There was quite a crowd queued up on the cold winter day, with lots of excited kids and adults waiting to get in for the show. Once the doors opened, we found our way into the theater and up the stairs to our seats in the center of the left portion of the mezzanine level. The theater is absolutely gorgeous. The 42nd Street Beaux-Arts entrance opens into one of the finest Art Nouveau theater interiors in New York. Carved and painted plaster, carved stone, carved wood, murals and tiles all combine to evoke what it was like going to the theater at the turn of the century. We promptly sent the kids to the snack bar in the rear of the mezzanine for candy and bottles of water. A few moments later, the lights dimmed, the music began, and it was time for the show!
Mary Poppins is a collaboration between Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Miserables. This production (the book for the play was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes) is based both on the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers and the classic 1964 Walt Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. As a result, the play is quite different from what Disney fans might remember from the film, although there are some tributes to the movie hidden in plain sight (like penguins riding in baby carriages in a park scene in the play - remember the penguins from the sidewalk chalk scene in the film?).
A review in The New Yorker magazine called the musical: ". . . a strange and beautiful thing, containing an astonishing variety of moods and distinguished by a faithful rendering of the books' brisk and sophisticated comic sensibility." Indeed, the production has maintained many of the elements of the film version, including beloved songs by Robert and Richard Sherman, like "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and "Feed the Birds." New songs by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles blend seamlessly with the classic songs, and bring additional depth to the stage version. "Practically Perfect" was an amazingly catchy tune that my girls sang over and over on the drive home. I thought that the "new" Mary Poppins was a bit more prickly and distant than Julie Andrews played her, but I also thought that Mr. and Mrs. Banks characters were more developed and more sympathetic. There is a wonderful touching scene where Mrs. Banks is preparing for a dinner party ("A Spoon Full of Sugar"), but the event is a disaster because no guests arrive. In addition, there is a fantastic and whimsical scene set in Mrs. Corry's shop, where people can buy words as well as gingerbread ("Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious"). There is also a new character, the evil Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks' old nanny, who he calls upon to step in when Mary Poppins leaves. Miss Andrew is a very harsh nanny, and believes that children should be subjected on a regular basis to a horrible medicine that tastes like cod liver oil ("Brimstone and Treacle"). The sets were gorgeous, the costumes lush, and the voice talents of the actors superb. Mary Poppins is currently played by Scarlett Strallen, who played the role in London's West End production (it is no longer playing there), and Bert is played by Adam Fiorentino.
The Side Trip
Disney fans who happen to be in New York for a show, or for any other reason, should not overlook the World of Disney Store on 5th Avenue at 55th Street. The store is huge, with three floors of Disney merchandise, including pins (you can do pin trading with cast members and there are monthly pin-trading events), a make-your-own crown station, Disney candy, Mr. Potato Head and an Art of Disney Gallery. We were lucky enough to happen onto the store a few minutes before a scheduled character meet and greet with Chip and Dale and Donald Duck. A Disney's Photopass photographer was on hand to capture the magic on film. Not to miss merchandise included a very cute (but, unfortunately, not available in my size) "I (Mickey Ears) NY" t-shirt.
Disney Theatrical Productions Coming to your Town
If you would like to see one of Disney's fantastic theatrical productions but won't be making it to New York any time soon, don't despair, several of the shows will be touring nationwide and may be coming to a theater near you. Mary Poppins' North American tour is scheduled to begin performances at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre March 11, 2009. The tour will continue with performances in Cleveland, St. Louis, Dallas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
The Lion King will be opening at the Mandalay Bay Theatre in Las Vegas, with previews beginning on May 5, 2009, and a touring version of the show will be going to East Lansing Michigan, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Sacramento, California, Edmonton, Alberta, Calgary, Alberta, Anchorage, Alaska and San Diego, California in 2009. Check HEREhttp://disney.go.com/theatre/aroundtheworld/#/home/ for schedules.
If you live outside of North America, or are planning a trip any time soon, you can also check the website for international venues for Mary Poppins (the United Kingdom), The Lion King (Hamburg, London, Tokyo and other Japan locations, Paris), Tarzan (Hamburg, the Netherlands), Beauty and the Beast (Moscow, South Africa, Barcelona) and High School Musical on Tour (Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom).
Select merchandise from the Disney on Broadway productions can be found on Disneyshopping.com.
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