New Bedknobs and Broomsticks Stage Musical Marks Movie’s 50th Anniversary

In December 1971 following a catalog of production problems and delays, Disney finally
released its magical comedy-adventure Bedknobs and Broomsticks to US audiences. To mark this special birthday, theatre-goers in the UK and Ireland are being treated to the world premiere of an elaborate re-telling of the story in an 8-month UK tour, concluding in Belfast in May 2022.

The original movie starred British-Irish born actress Angela Lansbury, who has the rare
ability to be recognisable to multiple generations through the beloved Disney characters she has portrayed in a career spanning over 70 years.   

Young children may remember her as the Balloon Lady in Mary Poppins Returns (2018).  Their parents probably know her for her role as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast (1991). Their grandparents may have fond memories of her as the wartime witch, Eglantine Price, in the animated/live-action Bedknobs and Broomsticks movie.

Born in London in 1925 to an actress mother and a politician father, it is probably no surprise that Angela attended acting school from an early age alongside her sister, Isolde.  
She was a teenager when World War II broke out and after the relentless and devastating
London bombing campaign of the Luftwaffe, her mother and stepfather decided to move the family to New York City in 1940. Once there, Angela received a scholarship to attend the
Lucy Fagan school of drama and only four years later she was nominated for an Academy
Award for best-supporting actress in her debut movie appearance, Gaslight, opposite Ingrid
Bergman.

By the time Angela played the part of Miss Price, she was a well-established actress with along list of movie credits to her name. Although not the first choice for the part (Disney had originally offered the role to Julie Andrews who turned it down) Angela delivers a wonderful performance as the somewhat eccentric and reclusive trainee witch.

Set in wartime England, Eglantine Price gives refuge to three orphans who are evacuated to
the countryside when their parents are killed in a bombing raid. The children soon start to
suspect that this mysterious woman who lives on her own is not all she seems. Before long
they are all embarking on fantastical adventures in their mission to help prevent a German
invasion using the power of magic.

Always a visionary and constantly pushing the boundaries of possibilities, Walt Disney’s first
venture into live-action with animation was with his business partner, Ub Iwerks, when their small studio produced the Alice in Cartoonland shorts in 1922. This concept was to be
developed further for Mary Poppins, but due to the lengthy negotiation process to
secure the book rights from author, P.L Travers, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was
earmarked as the next Disney movie project.  

Walt’s determination to adapt one of his daughters’ favourite childhood books into a movie
finally paid off when his patient, charismatic art of persuasion convinced Ms. Travers to
release the rights to her novels. As a result, Bedknobs was put on hold several times and
production stalled as it was thought audiences would consider the film too similar to Mary
Poppins
for it to be successful.

The Sherman brothers were great supporters of the movie. Their song Beautiful Briny was
originally written for Mary Poppins but was later adapted for use in Bedknobs for a fun scene beneath the ocean with the sea creatures interacting with Miss Price, Emelius and the
children. 

Many of the songs and musical numbers were cut from the movie when it was decided the
running time was too long. Some of this footage was sadly destroyed, but in the
2001documentary Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Music Magic with the Sherman Brothers,
those involved in putting together the remastered version explained how they were able to
salvage some of the deleted scenes and restore them with digital technology techniques.
These extra scenes give much more depth and context to the story and enable a new audience to understand why the cast and crew of the 1971 version had loved the story so much and believed in the project.

At the root of the story is a message that is a cornerstone belief of Disney. When Charlie, the oldest of the children, says he doesn’t believe in magic, Eglantine sings the Sherman brothers’ song ‘The Age of Non-Believing’.

When you set aside your childhood heroes
And your dreams are lost upon a shelf
You’re at the age of not believing
And worst of all you doubt yourself

You’re a castaway where no one hears you
On a barren isle in a lonely sea
Where did all the happy endings go?
Where can all the good times be?

You must face the age of not believing
Doubting everything you ever knew
Until at last you start believing
There’s something wonderful in you

We can all heed the Sherman brothers’ advice shared by Miss Price — you’re never too old to believe in a little bit of magic!

My name is Karen Burns and although I am based in the UK, I have been a lifelong Disney fan. For a little girl growing up in London, this magical place was a distant wonderland I could only ever dream of visiting. But it finally happened in 1990 when I was 16 years old.I have since been back to Walt Disney World with my husband and then again with our two daughters, and I have also visited Disneyland Paris which has my favourite Cinderella castle. Fast forward to the present day when I found Lou’s podcasts and then my excitement when he asked for contributors to the WDW Radio website. To write about my happy place is truly a dream come true.

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