Here’s some of what I learned on a recent steamy morning’s stroll on a “Disney on Broadway“ tour with Walks of New York: That 1923 was a stellar year for theater, with 243 plays on NYC stages, as opposed to 40 now. That the “Theater District” actually started downtown and crept up towards 42nd Street (think: “Give my regards to Broadway, remember me at Herald Square” – which is 34th Street). And that the boots the “Beast” wears in Beauty and the Beast have Reebok high-top sneakers hidden inside of them. (See, it’s that last one that really caught your attention, right?)
If you have kids 10 or older, and have a family who loves live theater and the siren song of Broadway, this 2.5 hour walking tour is a unique way to learn more about the Theater District, plus, and this is BIG plus, you get a peek backstage at a Disney prop room and at the New Amsterdam theater, the home of Disney’s Aladdin.
However, although billed as a “Disney” tour, the first hour is spent learning about the general history of Broadway and walking around the Theater District centered in Times Square. It’s great background for theater buffs, but kids under 11 will most likely either be bored, tired, or distracted (honestly, I would have liked to sit down in Sardi’s when we stopped outside to talk about the famous portraits inside).
The tour feels more special when it enters the the circa 1903 New Amsterdam Theater, the oldest in NYC, where Aladdin is staged. A guide escorted us into the empty theater and shared history and background, such as the fun fact that the theater is comprised of all curved lines – not a straight wall in the place — and that the “Genie” rises out of a hole in the stage that is custom cut to fit him.
Finally, the last 45 minutes spring to life as you enter the props room where five Disney theatrical productions (Aida, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Tarzan) are represented with original costumes and scenery. My group got to model everything from Mary Poppins’ red duster coat to Arielle’s oyster shell and Ursula’s diva dress from The Little Mermaid to the $7,000 custom lion headdress worn in The Lion King.
Playground’s Insider Guide:
Great for: Theater aficionados, anyone who loves Broadway, aspiring theater stars.
Highlights: In addition to the prop and costume room, the great guides, all of whom have Broadway connections, are why I’d come back. Of my two, one, Jeff Dobbins, had been a house manager for plays ranging from the original production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The other, Joe Paparella, is an actor who most recently had appeared in Les Miz. Note that the tours really shone when the guides shared personal stories of their time on the Great White Way. Be sure to ask questions about their experiences.
Negative: It would be better to call this a Broadway Walking Tour with a Disney stop instead of a Disney Walking Tour, which is misleading.
Details: Tours are 2.5 hours long and run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10am. Fees are $72 for adults and $65 for kids.