Photograph of the cast on stage performing the “Be Our Guest” musical number.

Beauty and the Beast: 30 Years of the Broadway Musical

By Katie Strobel, Walt Disney Archives

There may be something there that wasn’t there before...

November 22, 1991: Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast was met with critical acclaim and would later be nominated for six Academy Awards® —winning two. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune described the feature as “an instant classic, with songs worthy of a Broadway musical,” and Frank Rich of the New York Times even called the film’s soundtrack “the best Broadway musical score of 1991.” Less than three years later...

April 18, 1994: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast debuts at the Palace Theatre on Broadway as The Walt Disney Company’s first venture into what would become Disney Theatrical Group. Nine Tony® nominations (with one win) and 30 years later, this stage musical has been seen by over 25 million people in some 37 countries.

Black billboard with a silhouette of Beast holding a rose, advertising the “2nd Smash Year” of Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. (Photographer: Joan Marcus)
Beauty and the Beast billboard at the Palace Theatre for its “2nd Smash Year” and Beauty and the Beast at its European premiere at Vienna’s Raimund Theater in 1995.

Ever just the same, ever a surprise...

With a Tony-nominated book written by Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter of the ’91 animated feature, the musical expands upon the film’s themes. As Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner and then-Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg challenged the creative team, “You need the essence of the movie, but... you have to bring it its own qualities—qualities that can only be experienced in live theater.” From studying the costuming of rock groups to brainstorming how kitchen utensils would move, the multi-talented team indeed brought that “quality” production to life.

Composer Alan Menken expanded upon his Oscar®-winning original score for the ’91 film, writing several new songs for the Broadway musical with lyricist Sir Tim Rice—who came on to the project after the passing of film lyricist Howard Ashman. Menken and Ashman originally thought of the film as a musical, wanting the characters to “sing their thoughts and feelings within the story.” The film’s original Menken and Ashman tunes remain in the live stage production, including “Human Again,” which was cut from the ’91 film. These songs and that music have, over the years, gained new life with elaborate set decorations and the talents of various casts. (All three songwriters would later be named Disney Legends, the highest honor bestowed by The Walt Disney Company.)

One of those newly penned songs is a ballad for Belle called “Home,” which she performs after becoming the Beast’s captive. Its rich yet cold emotion served as inspiration for scenic designer Stan Meyer in designing Belle’s room in the Beast’s castle. He explained, “It juxtaposes... a fairy tale bedroom with the reality that Belle is the Beast’s prisoner.”

Beast—“the most fascinating character in the show,” according to Woolverton, though he didn’t have a full vocal number of his own until this production—also has a new song from Menken and Rice. “If I Can’t Love Her” reveals his tender, compassionate side after he has regrettably pushed Belle away. The song partly builds off the musical theme of the “Prologue” as well as a motif from “Belle Enters the Beast’s World” and “Beast Lets Go” from the original motion picture soundtrack. In repurposing original themes, Menken explained that he tried to “thread [the songs] out of themes that [he] had used in underscoring for the film,” giving the audience a sense of familiarity.

Sketch and inspiration for Belle’s costume by costume designer Ann Hould-Ward. (Costume design by Ann Hould-Ward)
Sketch and inspiration for Belle’s costume by Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward. Costume design by Ann Hould-Ward.

One of the larger shifts from film to musical was the transformation of the castle staff (i.e., Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and friends). Instead of donning the same appearance throughout the course of the show, the staff gradually becomes more and more like household objects by way of costuming. This proved to be a challenge for Tony® Award-winning costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, who needed to ensure the actors’ physical ability to move about the stage while dressed as a clock or a teapot. She also wanted the performers to enhance that transformation by leaving “enough room in the designs for their acting to be part of the illusion.” (See photo collage below.)

Disney fans will also be no stranger to various cast members of the show over the years. Susan Egan, the voice of Megara in Hercules (1997), originated the role of Belle—a character who’s also been performed by Disney favorites Christy Carlson Romano (Even Stevens, Kim Possible), Ashley Brown (original Mary Poppins on Broadway), and Anneliese van der Pol (That’s So Raven, Raven’s Home). Even actor Donny Osmond has donned the red tunic and hunting boots of Gaston.

Belle (Susan Egan) and Beast (Terrence Mann) from the original cast of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. (Production photography by Joan Marcus)
Belle (Susan Egan) and Beast (James Barbour). Production Photography by Joan Marcus.

For now I love the world I see, no change of heart, a change in me...

Beauty and the Beast had its last Broadway performance on July 29, 2007, ending its run with a total of 5,464 performances and 46 previews. With its 13-year run, the musical remains in the top 10 longest runs in the history of Broadway, even three decades later. And it was Beauty in the first place that launched Disney Theatrical Group, a stage musical powerhouse that would go on to produce three of the 15 longest-running shows in the history of Broadway—and change the theatrical landscape globally. Disney Theatrical Group chief creative officer Thomas Schumacher, who produced Beauty and the Beast through virtually all of its onstage life (and served as executive producer of the 2017 live-action film), thinks the reason the show remains so beloved is that “characters’ hearts and minds are changed, and people are figuratively and literally transformed by the power of love and understanding.”

The show has since been performed in hundreds of theaters around the world, including through popular touring productions. From 2018 to 2020, a Mandarin-language version played in the Walt Disney Grand Theatre in Disneytown at Shanghai Disney Resort. And in October 2022, Japan’s Shiki Theater Company, in association with Disney Theatrical Productions, debuted a version in the Maihama Amphitheater at Tokyo Disney Resort.

Whether six or 96, the Beauty and the Beast stage musical will remain in audiences’ hearts and minds for years to come. Near the time of its premiere, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner reflected, “I enjoy the thought that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will be a lifelong memory for a new generation of theatergoers, and that it will bring a new meaning to the word ‘Disney’ for veteran theatergoers.” That holds true... at least for this former 6-year-old!

Author and her brother stand side by side holding black Beauty and the Beast programs with a silhouette of Beast holding a rose.
Author and Disney archivist Katie Strobel and her brother at a performance of Beauty and the Beast in Los Angeles in May 1995, then pictured in 2024 with their original 1995 Shubert Theatre programs.

This sentiment will continue with an entirely new generation when a reimagined 30th anniversary production of Beauty and the Beast makes its debut in North America in summer 2025. Anne Quart, executive producer of the new production, conveys the team’s passion for the show: “We are thrilled to have once again gathered this world-class creative team on Beauty and the Beast, under the masterful direction of original team member Matt West. Together they created a beloved show in 1994, and today they’re telling that story with all the charm and romance of the original production, and newly resonant for today’s audiences. It’s a pleasure to be back in the room with this peerless team as they re-discover and expand Beauty and the Beast.” Learn more about the upcoming production here.