30 August 2012

Theater Thursday: Prince Ali On A Whole New Stage

It's Theater Thursday!

Today seems like a good day to talk about Disney's Aladdin. But that's a movie, why would I talk about that? Well, because it seems that it may very well be going to Broadway. If Aladdin heads to Broadway it will join the ranks of its older Disney-movies-turned-into-Broadway-stage-musicals siblings: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, My Son Pinocchio, and more. Most recently Disney has seen fabulous success with Newsies on Broadway, bringing in many new fans with the ecstatic revamped music, and perhaps creating a bit of tension between the diehard movie nuts and the newer musical-heads. Newsies, like Aladdin, originally came out in 1992 and both shows, assuming Aladdin does make the move to the Great White Way, will have experienced a huge resurgence in popularity.

This production of Aladdin, with its lofty (though certain if desired, considering Disney is bankrolling it) expectations, was  in tryouts at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle in July of last year. With a book by Chad Beguelin, most famous for his work on The Wedding Singer, direction by Casey Nicholaw of The Book of Mormon, music by Alan Menken (who managed to have two of his shows go against each other for best musical, but not best score in this year's Tony Awards), and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Beguelin the show is certain to make a big splash. Then again, the Seattle Times does point out that the show was flawed, with an Act I that tries too hard to be the movie we all know and love. However, it also says that the second act was good and that it was still enjoyable to watch.

The Seattle Aladdin uses many of the cut songs from the movie as well as new songs composed by Menken and lyricized by Beguelin. Menken and Beguelin decided to go back to Menken and Ashford's original concept of a fast paced show modeled after the seven "Road to..." movies starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. This series is known for its zany antics and gags, where the jokes, bits, one-liners take precedence over the plot. This style likely lends itself to reinstating such songs as "Call Me a Princess" during which Jasmine becomes a shrill voiced rich girl to shoo away suitors, "Why Me?" in which Jafar comically laments his past as he searches for the Diamond in the Rough, and "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kasim" in which Aladdin and his four friends (conflated into Abu in the movie version) perform to earn some spare change. What purpose these songs serve in the show is hard to tell out of context, but I'm all for more singing Jafar.

This is not the first time that Disney has made a stage musical version of Aladdin. There's the forty-five minute California Adventure show Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular. First opened in 2003, it more or less condenses the whole movie into that tiny time frame because who wants to go to an amusement park and watch a two hour and ten minute show (well, I would, but that's unimportant)? There are also Aladdin Jr. and Aladdin Kids, the middle school and lower school versions of Aladdin respectively. As to why there needs to be one especially geared to middle schoolers AND lower schoolers, I don't really know. But with such wonderful casting directions as "Jafar is our villain. In order to portray this through casting, consider a taller boy with a changed voice," and "The Tiger God is an all powerful presence yet a tad bit sassy to keep it interesting," one can't help but wonder what on Earth they're trying to do with these shows.

Regardless, Disney's latest foray into turning a tried and true property into a huge Broadway smash could prove successful. If the rumors are true, anyway. Perhaps we'll see a reworked version of the Seattle show in the near future. Will it become the next Lion King, and be everyone's favorite Broadway show, with people remembering spectacular sequences years down the line from when they first saw it? Or will it be Tarzan, and no one will even know it existed because it was, apparently, that bad? Who knows. All I want to know is where are my Hunchback and Mulan Broadway shows? I want Hellfire and Make a Man Out of You live. Let's get down to business, Disney.

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