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Disney's Great Leap

'Lion King' opens on Broadway next week: Can it merge commercial instincts with artistic ambitions?

November 03, 1997|PATRICK PACHECO | Special To The Times

"I didn't see that those were in contradiction. There was a lot of back and forth, and yelling, but I never felt compromised," Taymor says. "And I really felt nurtured and supported by Tom and Peter."

"It's not about money, it's about ideas. Michael has great faith in the big idea," Schneider says. He, like Schumacher, has an extensive background in nonprofit theater, including work at the St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago and the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. "If we have a fundamentally good idea, then we'll find the money for it. We have the luxury of spending all our time managing our creative sources."

Those creative sources have picked up speed of late with two projects in active development and a number of others in the works.

Robert Jess Roth, director of "Beauty and Beast," is working with Tim Rice and Elton John on a musical based on the legend of Aida, the romantic tragedy of a Nubian slave, which the director says will premiere next summer. In addition, director James Lapine ("Into the Woods") will adapt "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" for the stage with a bow also likely to come in summer, this time in Germany.

There is also a millennial project being developed under Schneider and Schumacher's auspices, but they would offer no details except that two symphonies had been commissioned for it.

And while Eisner says "The Lion King" is likely to be mounted all over the world, no plans are yet in place for any productions beyond Broadway. Schneider says he hopes--and expects--that "The Lion King" will change the perception of Disney among the New York theatrical community to that of a purveyor of "legitimate artistry" and not just commercialism.

"I know that it's out there--'Ohmigod, Disney!' " he said, rolling his eyes.

"If people come to see 'The Lion King,' maybe dragged there by somebody else, and come out thinking, 'Wow, I didn't know Disney could do this,' then that's a home run for us."

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