If any new tuner seems like a sure thing on Broadway this season, it's Disney's "Mary Poppins."
But with three Mouse House musicals already on the boards, some industry watchers wonder if yet another will stretch the company's audiences too thin -- particularly those of "Tarzan," Disney's recent addition to its Broadway contingent, which hasn't soared at the box office since its May opening.
Disney execs say they aren't worried. If "Poppins" proves the hit it looks likely to be, they argue, the overspill from the new entry might end up doing the existing shows a favor.
"Poppins," currently in previews for a Nov. 16 opening, has a healthy advance, said to be around $18 million.
As properties go, the 1964 pic is one of Disney's most popular. And the stage version is the product of not one but two legit powerhouses, Disney Theatrical Prods. and Cameron Mackintosh.
" 'Mary Poppins' is one of the jewels in the Walt Disney crown," Thomas Schumacher, producer of Disney Theatrical, emphasizes.
Disney decided to give "Poppins" pride of place in its showcase theater, the New Amsterdam. (To make way for it, the company moved long-runner "The Lion King" to a smaller house, the Minskoff.)
Disney's other Rialto offerings -- "Beauty and the Beast," "Lion King" and "Tarzan" -- feature such things as talking animals and dancing flatware, easy to show in an animated pic, but more challenging to render onstage.
In contrast, "Poppins" was already a human-centric book musical on the screen. "It's a zero-resistance proposition," says David Schrader, managing director and chief financial officer of Disney Theatrical.
"Poppins" is also the third concurrent Gotham production from Mackintosh, whose long-running "Phantom of the Opera" is joined by a return visit of "Les Miserables," opening Nov. 9.
But Mackintosh, while he is well known for big-budget Brit musicals like "Cats," "Les Miz" and "Miss Saigon," doesn't have the same brand recognition among general audiences as Disney, the company whose animated pics nearly every child in America grows up watching.
But then there is that question of whether the Disney quartet will cannibalize each other. And a fifth, "The Little Mermaid" (preeming in Denver in June 2007), is possibly on the way.
Schumacher isn't concerned. "You can make a stronger case that these shows hold each other up," he says.
"If they can't get into 'Lion King' or 'Mary Poppins,' then we can offer them 'Tarzan,' " Schrader says. "That could help 'Tarzan.' It definitely helped 'Aida.' " That Disney tuner logged a four-year-plus Broadway run that ended in 2004; it did respectable biz but was never a breakout success.
"Beauty and the Beast," which has been running since 1994, could also benefit. But that show recently has been surpassing expectations anyway, thanks in part to the replacement casting of Donny Osmond.
In any event, Schumacher thinks it's better to be competing with yourself than another producer. "If we're not in that theater, someone else would be," he says.