Earlier this week I wrote a feature story about Disney Theatrical Productions president (and San Mateo native) Thomas Schumacher. You can read the story here.
For the blog, I wanted to take you behind the scenes a little bit because this was a hugely enjoyable story to work on.
First of all, I got to see the two Disney Broadway shows I hadn’t yet seen, Tarzan and Mary Poppins. After Tarzan, which features some extraordinary choreography (involving ropes and bungee-like ropes) and design, I got a backstage tour conducted by the charming Jorge Vargas, a friend of Schumacher’s for 25 years, since they met when Schumacher was working for the Los Angeles Ballet and Vargas was a dancer.
Vargas allowed peeks into the wig and costume rooms, and then let us chat with 23-year-old Josh Strickland, a former “American Idol” contestant who is now playing the chest-beating, vine-swinging Tarzan.
In his Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt, shorts and Yankees baseball cap, Strickland sang Schumacher’s praises: “Tom is not afraid to give new talent a chance. Lucky for me.”
Meeting Schumacher a few days later, he was in the midst of preparing for a party for the American League of Theaters and Producers, who were in town being feted by pretty much every producer on Broadway.
Schumacher energized the rehearsal for the evening’s entertainment, which was a tribute to George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the young(ish) British songwriters who augmented and modified the original Sherman Brothers score for Mary Poppins. The songwriters sang tunes from their shows and were joined by Strickland and Ashley Brown (the title role in Mary Poppins) and Rebecca Luker (Mrs. Banks in Poppins). As an added treat, Stiles and Drewe were joined by “surprise guest” Richard Sherman.
After rehearsal, Schumacher and I retreated to a cozy dinner spot on Restaurant Row (46th Street between Eighth and Ninth streets), and Schumacher said that even after all his years in show business, he has never quite lost what he called the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aspect of this job.”
“You get to do this thing that you dream of and want to live for,” he said.
As if to prove his statement, our dinner was briefly interrupted by British playwright David Hare, who came over to say hello to Schumacher, who praised Hare’s work as director of Vanessa Redgrave in the one-woman show The Year of Magical Thinking.
Hare was in New York reluctantly because, as he put it, “It’s the most beautiful English spring I can recall. Very difficult to leave.”
After talking about how much he loves being a hands-on producer, Schumacher said: “This will sound stupid to someone who’s at all jaded, but there’s a warm embrace to an empty theater when you’re all sitting in the theater seats, feet up, trying to solve a problem. You’re with the band, the dressers, the crew, and you’re all trying to solve this thing. It’s the same feeling, I learned much later, you have if you’re on a sports team. It’s the rehearsal, the practice. The event is doing it in front of people. I love that coming together thing. A lot. I feel lucky to be doing it.”