Mark Shenton’s top 7 Broadway stars who have voiced animated movie musicals
The modern Hollywood age of animated feature musicals has seen them regularly make the trip back to the stage – just last night (September 14), I was at the Denver opening of a new stage version of Disney’s Frozen, ahead of its transfer to New York next February. There, it will join the long-running stage versions of The Lion King and Aladdin. The characters in the original film versions have also often been voiced by Broadway stars. Here are my seven favourites.
1. Angela Lansbury in Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s film-to-stage business began with its 1994 Broadway version of the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast. Now the stage musical rewrite has gone the other way back to the cinema, with a live action film version of it released in 2017 that featured a full panoply of actors who’ve variously appeared on either the London and/or Broadway stage – Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad and Kevin Kline. But the most beloved Broadway star to have appeared on the original 1991 soundtrack for Beauty and the Beast is Angela Lansbury, who voiced Mrs Potts; also in the cast was another Broadway legend Jerry Orbach as Lumiere.
2. Idina Menzel in Frozen
Having made her name on Broadway in the original casts of Rent (in which she originated the role of Maureen) and Wicked (Elphaba), Idina Menzel became the original voice of Elsa, the Snow Queen, in the 2013 film Frozen. The role of Elsa, who gets to sing the iconic song Let It Go, is now being played in the Denver stage premiere of the show by Caissie Levy. As she told the New York Times recently, “I knew what a massive opportunity this was, and how special it would be to be creating this character for the stage. I never thought I’d get to be a Disney princess, that’s for sure.”
3. Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg in The Lion King
The original 1994 film version of Disney’s The Lion King featured a veritable parade of Broadway and West End royalty, from Matthew Broderick (Simba) and James Earl Jones (Simba’s father Mufasa), Jeremy Irons (Scar, Mufasa’s younger brother) and Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi, one of the hyenas who serve Scar); as well as Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume and Rowan Atkinson as Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki and Zazu respectively. In 1997 it was brought to the Broadway stage at the New Amsterdam Theatre (subsequently transferring to the Minskoff, where it continues to play today), and is now the third longest-running show in Broadway history (behind Phantom of the Opera and Chicago), and the most profitable entertainment in any genre of all time, with worldwide grosses of more than $7 billion.
4. Liz Callaway in Anastasia
While Meg Ryan voiced the title role of Grand Duchess Anastasia in the 1997 animated film version of Anastasia, her singing voice was provided by the luminous Broadway soprano Liz Callaway, whose radiant version of the Oscar-nominated Journey to the Past is one of the most beautiful ballads of any animated feature. Callaway, who has appeared in starring roles on Broadway in shows like Miss Saigon and Cats, is now mainly to be found on the cabaret and concert circuit; I just saw her do an absolutely wonderful cabaret of songs from the 1960s in New York at 54 Below. Anastasia, meanwhile, has just become a Broadway musical, now running at the Broadhurst Theatre where the title character is played by Christy Altomare.
5. Lea Salonga in Aladdin
The singing voice for Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin) in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin was provided by Lea Salonga, the Philippines-born actress who became a star as the original West End and Broadway Kim in Miss Saigon. Jonathan Freeman voiced Jafar, a role he would reprise in the 2014 Broadway stage version. That continues to run today at the New Amsterdam Theatre, as does the London edition that opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in 2016.
6. Jodi Benson in The Little Mermaid
Princess Ariel in Disney’s 1989 film The Little Mermaid was voiced by Jodi Benson, who would go on to star as the original lead in Crazy for You in 1992. When The Little Mermaid in turn became a Broadway show in 2007, Princess Ariel was originated by Sierra Boggess, who had previously played Christine Daae in the Las Vegas company of The Phantom of the Opera, and subsequently would go on to originate the same role in the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies in the West End.
7. Tom Hulce in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The 1996 Disney film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with music by Alan Menken, featured Tom Hulce – a Broadway veteran of Equus (in which he had taken over as Alan Strang) and A Few Good Men – as Quasimodo. It became a stage musical that was premiered first in Germany in 1999, and subsequently in an English language staging at San Diego in 2014 and Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2015 that starred Michael Arden as Quasimodo.