Disney Plus needs more musicals, and Hamilton could be just the beginning

(Image credit: Joan Marcus)

Disney Plus is already a home for many a musical, and whether you’re more into the animated sing-a-long films of Hercules and Mulan, or the spin-off High School Musical series, there are plenty of tune-filled shows and films to keep any Disney Plus subscriber occupied.

Things are changing, though, with the arrival of Hamilton, which is confirmed to be landing on the service this July 3 – far ahead of its originally planned theatrical release date in October 2021.

The award-winning musical – penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also took the starring role in its original Broadway production – took audiences and critics by storm with its mash-up hip-hop opera, which explores the politically turbulent life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. 

Its arrival on Disney Plus will be welcome to those of us who haven’t managed to see the show in person – a huge number, given the limited number of seats per performance and increasingly high price of tickets. If you don’t live in or near London or New York, too, your only real option is to listen to the soundtrack (which still holds up magnificently by itself).

But Hamilton coming to Disney Plus also opens the door to the many Disney stage musicals showing on Broadway and on London’s West End coming to the TV streaming service. Here’s why.

A whole new world

Disney has been a sizeable force in the world of Broadway and West End musicals for years now, including massive hit shows like The Lion King and Aladdin, to others like Tarzan or the Little Mermaid that have toured numerous countries without necessarily ending up at a massive London or Broadway theater. There’s even a stage musical for Mary Poppins!

2020 is not business as usual, though. With lockdown measures keeping cinemas, theaters, bars, and entertainment venues shut for the foreseeable future, more and more of us are looking to TV streaming services to scratch our content fix. 

Disney Plus didn’t exactly need that driver, with millions of subscribers signing up in its first few days in the US, Canada and Australia, and more coming in the months afterwards as it spread to the UK and rest of Europe. But the fact remains that live performances have been put on pause, and platforms like Disney Plus offer a way to compensate for that.

With animated and live-action Aladdin movies on Disney Plus, why not the stage production too?

With animated and live-action Aladdin movies on Disney Plus, why not the stage production too? (Image credit: Disney)

Disney has also played around with streams for musical performances, including its Disney on Broadway 25th Anniversary concert, which was filmed in late 2019 (remember 2019?) and streamed in April 2020 to raise money for victims of Covid-19. Most notably, though, we know that the West End stage musical for Aladdin was recorded in full last year (via MovieNewsNet).

Of course, many of Disney’s stage musicals have been shut for weeks amid lockdown measures, and so any performances yet to be filmed for streaming for Disney Plus are unlikely to have the opportunity in the coming weeks. London’s West End is also due to be shut until June 28, if not later, while Broadway is expected to be closed until at least September (via The New York Times).

On Disney Plus you’ll also find a filmed performance of the Broadway musical Newsies – alongside the 1992 film version starring a rather young Christian Bale.

We’d be surprised, though, if Disney didn’t have some form of video recordings for many of its other musicals – or a plan to get them – especially with its involvement in Hamilton showing an interest in bringing stage musicals to screen.

Theater videographer Bartek Podkowa (Seven Hills Film) told us that Disney would likely go ahead with “Frozen, The Lion King and Aladdin – assuming they have pre-existing recordings. Filming new shows on the scale they're dealing with would be incredibly difficult in the immediate future, so I would expect them to start with what they already have available.”

“I hope that streamed musicals could reach audiences that might not normally consider giving a staged musical a shot, and convince them to start seeing live shows once theaters reopen,” added Podkowa – while acknowledging that “polished, high-budget” streams from Disney could squeeze out the streaming attempts of smaller theaters and venues during the extended closure.

One jump ahead

Disney Plus mother's day gift subscription card

Room for one more? (Image credit: Disney)

A way to binge the biggest Disney musicals in their stage form, and watch them back-to-back with the original animated films that spawned them, would be a massive addition to the Disney Plus catalogue – which, as it stands, still suffers from a lack of variety outside of its tentpole Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and Disney channels. Why not a dedicated tab for ‘Disney Plus Live’?

There are also plenty of other stage musicals that attract thousands of paying audience members every month – and if Disney was able to get the streaming rights to a number of them, its streaming service could become a home for stage musicals, current and past, for those unable or see them in person. 

Imagine seeing Matilda, Dear Evan Hansen, and Wicked next to The Last Jedi and Black Panther, or even Book of Mormon (though we don’t expect Disney bringing that to its largely family-friendly service).

We’ve seen similar measures by the UK’s National Theatre, which has expanded its usual NT Live programme into a weekly broadcast of past productions, with a strategy of limited streaming availability as to not end up replacing live performances altogether.

For now, we’ll be satisfied with Hamilton – but if Disney doesn’t have a roadmap for its stage musicals coming to Disney Plus too, it should probably start planning one. 

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.