Walt Disney Co. appears close to adding a piece of Broadway to its domain.
Lawyers for Disney and the New York State Urban Development Corp. were working Thursday to put the finishing touches on an agreement under which Disney would lease the defunct New Amsterdam Theater for new musicals based on Disney creations.
The 42nd Street block, once a vibrant entertainment district, now consists almost entirely of empty buildings that most recently housed X-rated movie theaters and cheap retail stores.
Bob McTyre, vice president of Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, a newly created division, said musicals are “a natural extension” of Disney’s entertainment activities.
Disney’s first stage venture, “Beauty and the Beast,” an adaptation of its animated film of the same name, is currently playing to sellout crowds in Houston. The play is scheduled to open at the Palace Theater in New York in early April.
“We hope it will be well received, and if it is, we hope to do more,” McTyre said. “You need to go to New York and be well received to have credibility. After that, you can go around the country and internationally.”
McTyre said ticket prices for “Beauty and the Beast,” which cost an estimated $8 million to $10 million to stage, will be in line with those of other musicals: $65 for the most expensive seat.
“The economics dictate the pricing, and recouping your investment takes a long time,” he said. “Yes, it’s a risky business, but most things in the entertainment area are risky.”
McTyre declined to discuss the details of the New Amsterdam agreement before it is signed.
However, last month, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner told the Houston Chronicle that if the revitalization of 42nd Street works out, the New Amsterdam will be used not only for stage versions of Disney films, but also, possibly, for new shows that might be adapted to the screen.
The arrival of Disney could transform the prospects for the 42nd Street block. “It would act as a magnet” for other development, one city official predicted.
If that were to happen, it would mark the end of years of failed attempts to revitalize the Times Square area that ended up doing little other than driving out the businesses that remained.
Last fall, after a proposal to put up four office towers fell victim to protests and the economic downturn, a new plan was unveiled that calls for theaters, hotels and other attractions of particular interest to tourists.
City and state officials declined to discuss the proposed terms of the Disney deal, which presumably would involve some sort of tax breaks and other financial arrangements. Sources close to the negotiations suggested that the rush to try to get the deal done was due to a feeling that if talks aren’t completed by the time Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani takes office, there could be a delay.
Disney’s new theatrical venture comes at a time when the company is finding it has less than a totally magic touch. Its Euro Disney in France is in danger of closing because of massive losses. And Chairman Michael Eisner recently expressed reservations about going ahead with a major new theme park in Southern California.