It's been 25 years since Australian theatre audiences first experienced the magic of Disney on stage. Beauty and the Beast first premiered in Melbourne at the Princess Theatre on 8 July 1995. Since then, productions of The Lion King (twice!), Mary Poppins and Aladdin have been produced by Disney Theatrical Productions. These productions have been seen by more than seven million people in this region. Year after year, Disney has continued to dazzle audiences with their selection of spectacular productions and it's only getting better.
Beauty and the Beast (1995)
This is where it all began – Disney's Beauty and the Beast premiered in Melbourne a quarter of a century ago (yup, you read that correctly). Melbourne was the first city in the world outside of New York to experience this tale as old as time on-stage, before it opened in Sydney a year later.
Both the Melbourne and Sydney seasons played for over a year in each city, which is not a huge surprise when you consider the spectacular talent of the performers in the cast, including none other than a 27-year-old Hugh Jackman. Having graduated from WAAPA the previous year, Beauty and the Beast was Jackman's professional debut. Audiences swooned over his heart-fluttering performance of Gaston and it's been true love ever since. Other notable names joining Hugh in the original company were Rachael Beck as Belle and Bert Newton as Cogsworth.
The Lion King (2003 & 2013)
After Australia's love affair with Beauty and the Beast, audiences were desperate for more Disney magic. Needless to say, their expectations were blown out of the water when The Lion King opened at Sydney's Capitol Theatre in 2003. The show ran in Sydney until June 2005, before opening in Melbourne and playing for just under a year until 2006. It was so well-received by audiences that the production returned to Australia again in 2013, opening at the Capitol Theatre. The Lion King went on to play across Australia, performing in Melbourne again, then Brisbane and Perth. The highly-acclaimed revival was seen by 1.7 million people and played a whopping 869 performances.
Both the 2003 and 2013 productions featured a stellar cast. The 2003 production starred Australian-New Zealand actor Jay Laga'aia as Mufasa. The 2013 production was the most multicultural cast of any Australian-produced stage musical at that time, with actors from 13 different countries across five continents, forming its cast. Nick Afoa, who played Simba, even went on to perform the role in the West End.
Mary Poppins (2010)
In 2010, Disney brought the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical Mary Poppins to Australia. The reimagined classic opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, before going on to play in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland. The Melbourne season alone played to more than 500,000 theatregoers, selling out its season.
Like all of Disney's musicals, Mary Poppins featured a star-studded cast which included Verity Hunt-Ballard, Marina Prior, Phillip Quast and Debra Byrne. Matt Lee, who played Bert, went on to perform this role in Mary Poppins' UK tour. Many people welcomed the Australian production as Mary Poppins' homecoming – the character was originally created by Australian-English writer P. L. Travers. It comes as no surprise that this production was loved by audiences of all ages and won 8 Helpmann Awards.
A magic carpet flew into Sydney's Capitol Theatre when Aladdin premiered in 2016. This was one of Disney's biggest productions, with 150 moving lights, 337 costumes, 84 special effects, and a jaw-dropping 500,000 Swarovski crystals on stage. The show needed over 100 actors, crew, and venue staff to run each performance.
The lavish production played to audiences across Australia and in both Auckland and Singapore. Aladdin was the first Disney Theatrical Production to play in Adelaide and was absolutely adored by audiences in this city. Aussie actor Ainsley Melham originated the title role and went on to perform this role in Aladdin's Broadway production.
After more than two decades of outstanding productions, we're eagerly awaiting the next Disney musical. Frozen the Musical will be premiering in Sydney later this year at the Capitol Theatre, making it the first international destination after showing on Broadway. Jemma Rix and Courtney Monsma have been cast in the iconic lead roles of Elsa and Anna. Matt Lee returns to Disney to play the loveable snowman Olaf with Thomas McGuane playing Hans and Sean Sinclair as Kristoff. There's no doubt that Frozen the Musical will be a major hit among Aussie theatre lovers!