EXCLUSIVE: I heard that yesterday the Disney Theatrical Group, which is the theatrical production arm of Walt Disney Studios that puts shows like The Lion King and Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mary Poppins and Tarzan and Aida on Broadway and on tour, is shrinking. It’s closing the Glendale office where I’m told some 50 or so people are based. Among those let go is Carol Nygren, the head of the company’s money-maker Disney On Ice and Disney Live which are part of Disney Live Family Entertainment and overseen by the Disney Theatrical Group. I also was tipped about other recent departures and/or layoffs among several long-term key executives leaving the Disney Theatrical Group’s home at NYC’s New Amsterdam Theater. These include the SVP & General Manager, three Associate Producers (a fourth stays), Head of Talent and Casting Development, Head of Physical Production, and VP Legal.  Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher and his heir apparent David Schrader are now calling this shakeup a “reorganization” (see detailed memo below) as the increasingly hit-challenged division struggles to maintain profits.

The Disney Theatrical Group has always and still does report to the Walt Disney Studios chairman who is Rich Ross of course. Yet Schumacher likes to think he’s running a boutique business that’s not under Ross’s direction. (Hmm.) So here is what’s really going on: Word is that Schumacher’s contract is up for renewal. And Schrader, a former finance manager for American Airlines whose rapid ascension at Disney has caused some raised eyebrows, is positioning himself as the new executive leader with studio brass. Meanwhile, Schumacher recently had his personal deal to produce live-action features for Walt Disney Studios, with a focus on movie musicals, cancelled by Ross. That has caused quite a lot of talk. People don’t seem to like Schumacher, an ex-head of Disney Animation. (One reason cited to me is “he continues to retell history, all but erasing the success of his former producing partner and lead creative Peter Schneider,” according to one insider. And his “inflated ego is only matched by the size of his office and his ‘above the title billing’ — which is odd, given that he works for a publicly held company.”) Interesting that Schrader’s name is on the memo below — and not Schumacher’s:

From: Schrader, David
Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 12:58 PM
To: #DTG NEW YORK Master List; #DTG GLENDALE Master List; #DTG AUSTRALIA Master List
Subject: Organizational Announcement

Dear Colleagues:
Today we are announcing a restructuring of some specific areas of Disney Theatrical Group (DTG), most significantly Marketing and Distribution, to align us more closely with both the Studio and Disney International organizations.  The new structure will give us more flexibility, focus and strength.  In addition, this simplified structure will allow us to more efficiently deliver our shows (more…)