With a presence in five Broadway theaters, including the New Amsterdam on West 42nd Street, which it renovated and where "The Lion King" has played to sold-out performances for two years, Disney is in talks to take over the historic Biltmore Theater, where the musical HAIR once played, Theatermania's Ward Morehouse III has learned.
A "downsized" version of Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, will move from the Palace Theater to the Lunt-Fontaine Theater in November and Elton's John's pop-rock musical AIDA, based on the venerable Verdi opera, is set to open at the Palace next Spring.
"Among other things, Disney would use the Biltmore for a Times Square-area screening room for Disney films," says one high-placed source close to the negotiations. Neither Disney nor the owners of the Biltmore, Stewart F. Lane and James M. Nederlander, chairman of the mammoth theater and concert venue-owning Nederlander Organization, had any official comment.
Lane and Nederlander bought the 1,000-seat Biltmore at 261 West 47th Street in 1992 after it had been "dark" for several years following a fire and years of neglect. In addition to being theater owners, both men are major Broadway producers and have been looking for a buyer for the theater. Built in 1925, renovations are estimated at $6 million.
"While they were willing to do some things to help us we basically couldn't get either Actors Equity or the stage hands' union [Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)] to make enough concessions to make it economically feasible for us to take out a mortgage to renovate the theater and run it as a legitimate playhouse," Lane told Theatermania.
The Biltmore's interior was officially designated a landmark some years ago and sources said that Disney or another buyer or lease-holder would have to preserve some of the grandeur of the inside of the theater as well as re-wire the theater, put in a new light board, and replace antiquated heating and air-conditioning equipment.