Hannah mania; Teen fans and retailers jump for joy.


Move over Mickey Mouse: The hottest thing out of Disney is a southern gal who's not even old enough to drive.

Miley Cyrus, a 15-year-old actress/singer from Tennessee and daughter of country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus, has parlayed the success of Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana" show into a national phenomenon.

Demand for her 54-concert tour, which comes to Worcester's sold-out DCU Center tomorrow and Saturday, has been at a fever pitch, with tickets selling out within minutes.

Her TV series, in which Cyrus plays a normal teenager who lives a double life as rock star Hannah Montana, has become so big that a half-hour episode in mid-October attracted 5.35 million viewers. That made it the second-most-watched cable show for the week behind an iconic franchise called Monday Night Football.

The rabid following has resulted in a gold mine for Disney, retailers, concert promoters and Cyrus. With a second "Hannah Montana" season under way, Disney is considering a full-length feature film and it licenses dozens of Hannah Montana products: pajamas at Macy's, fragrances at Wal-Mart, bedding at K-Mart, plus footwear, TVs, clocks, guitars, dolls, tote bags, lunch boxes and video games.

Although Disney won't say how much each of its properties generates, the company estimates its retail sales targeted for tweens or pre-teenagers is about $400 million annually, with Hannah Montana being one of the biggest sellers. Concert ticket sales are projected to generate roughly $525,000 per show or more than $28 million for the tour, according to a concert organizer.

Hannah Montana is the latest in a string of Disney-themed concerts that have become a lucrative part of the entertainment industry.

"Disney has created a new niche in the concert business," said Sandra Dunn, DCU general manager, who likened Disney's move into concert arenas to its success on Broadway with the musicals "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Concert adaptations of Disney-channel hits "The Cheetah Girls" and "High School Musical" also have been at the DCU Center, as has Hilary Duff, who began her career on the Disney program "Lizzie McGuire."

"We fit into the size and type of building those shows are looking for," Dunn said.

In addition to tickets, Hannah Montana is moving lots of souvenirs at the concerts, so much so that Roger Bullock of Facility Merchandising Inc. said he expects Hannah to topple a 20-year record for sales of concert merchandise at the building.

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