Cast and crew of a staged adaptation of The Walt Disney Co.'s (NYSE:DIS) Beauty and the Beast debuted the musical in Mumbai on Oct. 23. Disney has long impressed audiences with live staged renditions of The Lion King, Aladdin, and other shows that start on Broadway and then expand overseas, helping to further promote Disney's characters and brand worldwide.
India represents a uniquely large opportunity for Disney, which is why Beauty and the Beast taking the stage in India for the first time with a fully professional local cast is especially important now.
The beast in Mumbai
The staged adaptation of Beauty and the Beast premiered on Broadway in 1994, three years after the movie was released, and ran on Broadway for 13 years, earning nine Tony Award nominations. The musical was licensed out in 2004 and since then has been performed in 28 countries.
The Indian cast and crew for this production include some big-name Indian actors as well as locally famous wardrobe and creative talent. The stage boasts larger-than-life stage sets and dazzling costumes, wowing Indian audiences in Mumbai like it does everywhere else in the world. The performance will be shown in major venues in Mumbai and then Delhi through December.
Why this is such an important opportunity for Disney
Disney's international expansion is very important for the company's growth prospects, especially developing countries with rapidly growing middle classes that become vastly increasing target markets for Disney characters that are already solid money makers in many mature markets like the U.S. and Europe. China gets most of the attention for being the emerging middle-class market for media, but India could be just as important of an opportunity for Disney.
India has the potential to be an incredibly large and very engaged audience for Disney. The company's potential for success in India is shown by this Beauty and the Beast musical, which has been stirring media and public interest in India since it was first announced, with publications like Times of India following the musical's development and continued progress. More than 12,000 tickets were sold to patrons in Mumbai the first two weeks tickets were on sale.
Why is this such an important opportunity for Disney? India has a population of nearly 1.3 billion people, and a middle class that is rapidly expanding. While India's middle class hasn't grown yet in the way China's has over the last decade, remember that India began many of it's economic reforms in 1991, about 13 years later than China, so we could see similar growth in India that we saw in China soon. But it's not just the size of the market, its the media culture in India that could be a great fit for Disney as well.
India also already has a thriving film industry, dubbed "Bollywood," where local filmmakers pumped out 214 films in just 2014. While an already thriving industry could mean competition to new entrants, it also shows an opportunity for companies like Disney willing to partner with local cast and communities instead of just distributing films. This musical shows Disney's ability to partner with so many talented local cast members and create such a receptive audience. This will make it much more successful for Disney to also get its movies in Indian homes and get its toys in the hands of kids in Mumbai. There has even been talk in recent years of a Disney theme park in India, though it was put on hold for the time being as Disney prepares to open its newest park in Shanghai, China, in February 2016.
Why Disney looks like a long-term winner
Disney is very focused on international expansion. While talking about the company's prospects in Asia and elsewhere in 2014, Disney Studios President Alan Bergman said that "There's no question that international is the growth area for the studio ..." China has been a large part of that growth already and remains an important market, but is not the only growth opportunity outside of the U.S. for Disney. India could be just as important as a growth opportunity in coming years, and the debut of the live musical Beauty and the Beast in India is just one more reason why Disney looks like a long-term winner on growth in various high-potential markets around the world.
Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.