The stage musical Tarzan Rocks! occupied the Theater in the Wild at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida from 1999 to 2006. When the musical closed in January 2006, it was rumored that a musical adaptation of Finding Nemo would replace it. This was confirmed in April 2006, when Disney announced that the musical adaptation of Finding Nemo, with new songs written by Tony Award-winning Avenue Q composer Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, would "combine puppets, dancers, acrobats, and animated backdrops" and open in late 2006. Years later, Anderson-Lopez explained that she had written a compact 15-minute a cappella version of the story of Oedipus; someone at Disney read it and recognized her talent for condensing material, and offered her the opportunity to make a pitch for the Finding Nemo project.
Tony Award-winning director Peter Brosius signed on to direct the show, with Michael Curry, who designed puppets for Disney's successful stage version of The Lion King, serving as leading puppet and production designer.
Anderson-Lopez said that the couple agreed to write the adaptation of "one of their favorite movies of all time" after considering "the idea of people coming in [to see the musical] at 4, 5 or 6 and saying, 'I want to do that'....So we want to take it as seriously as we would a Broadway show". To condense the feature-length film to 30 minutes, she and Lopez focused on a single theme from the movie, the idea that "the world's dangerous and beautiful".
The 40-minute show (which is performed six times daily) opened on January 2, 2007. Several musical numbers took direct inspiration from lines in the film, including "In The Big Blue World", "Fish Are Friends, Not Food", "Just Keep Swimming", and "Go With the Flow". In January 2007, a New York studio recording of the show was released on iTunes, with Lopez and Anderson-Lopez providing the voices for Marlin and Dory, respectively.Avenue Q star Stephanie D'Abruzzo also appeared on the recording, as Sheldon/Deb.Finding Nemo was the first non-musical animated film to which Disney added songs to produce a stage musical. In 2009, Finding Nemo – The Musical was honored with a Thea Award for Best Live Show from the Themed Entertainment Association.