"Mermaid" Drowns "Beast"

This undated photo supplied by Disney shows an unidentified actress portraying Belle, center, leading the company in the "Be Our Guest" number in the Broadway production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast." The show will close July 29,2007, making way for "The Little Mermaid," a stage version of its acclaimed 1989 animated film, which will arrive in December. AP Photo/Disney, Joan Marcus

Broadway is trading one spirited Disney heroine for another.

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" will close July 29 on Broadway, making way for "The Little Mermaid," a stage version of its acclaimed 1989 animated film, which will arrive in December.

"There is an enormous affection for this show (`Beauty and the Beast')," Tom Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical, said Wednesday. "I want to give audiences a chance to play that out. In an ideal world, you should give as much care and consideration to the closing of a show as to its opening."

By the time it ends its run this summer at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, "Beauty and the Beast" will have played 5,464 performances and 46 previews, surpassing the runs of such musicals as "42nd Street," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Hello, Dolly!" The musical opened in April 1994 at the Palace Theatre and transferred to the Lunt-Fontanne in November 1999. It holds the long-run record at both theaters, Schumacher said.

"Beauty and the Beast" currently stars Deborah Lew as Belle, the young woman who transforms a morose creature (portrayed by Steve Blanchard) with the power of her love. Among the actresses who have played Belle during its 13-year run are Susan Egan (the original), Toni Braxton, Deborah Gibson, Andrea McArdle, Christy Carlson Romano, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Ashley Brown (Broadway's Mary Poppins).

No word yet if Disney will bring in some big names during the show's final six months, but Schumacher said, "There might be a few surprises before the end."

"The Little Mermaid," which will open Dec. 6 at the Lunt-Fontanne, tells the story of Ariel, a young mermaid who yearns to live on land. Preview performances begin Nov. 3.

The show, directed by Francesca Zambello, will play an out-of-town tryout in Colorado at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which is part of the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Preview performances begin July 26 with an opening set for Aug. 23. Schumacher said casting will be announced later.

"The Little Mermaid" has a book by Doug Wright, author of the Tony Award-winning "I Am My Own Wife." The score will feature songs from the movie by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who died in 1991, as well as new material by Menken and lyricist Glen Slater.

The show will be the third Disney musical to open on Broadway in 18 months. "Tarzan," on view at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, arrived last May, while "Mary Poppins" opened in November. A fourth, "The Lion King" has been playing on Broadway since November 1997.
  • Ellen Crean

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