A few weeks ago we were invited to take a backstage tour of the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, current home of the Disney Broadway musical, Mary Poppins. The New Amsterdam is a particularly rich historical theater – it housed the Ziegfeld Follies and the fabulous Fanny Brice and is haunted by the ghost of Olive Thomas. Like most of Times Square in the 70s and 80s The New Amsterdam had fallen apart, become decrepit and rat ridden and showed Kung Fu movies. I remember when Disney purchased the theater and announced their intention to restore it and bring The Lion King there. Most New Yorkers were skeptical at best.
What occurred is one of those extraordinary New York and theater moments. The restoration of the theater – most of it helped by the memories of original Ziegfeld Follies girls then in their 90s – is glorious. All of the original details were restored or rebuilt from the crowned sconces, to the Shakespeare friezes, to the beautiful murals in the downstairs lounge that depict the history of New York. It’s hard to imagine the lounge with 2 feet of dirty water filling the floor as it was 15 years ago when they began the restoration.
On our tour we not only saw the beautiful details but also had a backstage, hands-on experience with props and set pieces from all of the Disney musicals. Sitting in Ariel’s scallop shell bathtub was a definite highlight. That evening we saw Mary Poppins – for the second time I should say. But, now that my girls are 9 they had a whole different appreciation. It also was pretty amazing to see the show after standing on that very stage that morning. There is nothing like walking on a Broadway stage! Except, maybe, seeing yourself on one of the giant screens in Times Square.
We had an extra dose of Disney Magic that day when the girls got to experience a virtual Disney Park experience by posing with a beamed-in Daisy Duck and having their pictures projected on the screen above the Disney Times Square store and then again and again on within the “castle” that covered the building across the street. I think they could have watched themselves forever…