Sunday, 13 April 2014

How Did I Miss This? - JMI on the JMI Show!

James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Bit of a flashback today.  I picked up the Memphis cast album whilst I was in New York so I've been a bit of a Memphis kick since I got back and was playing catch on some old episodes of The JMI Show on their YourTube channel when I came across this;




Yes, James finally interviewed himself and it is every bit as awesome as it sounds.

The interview is full of great moments, but of special interest to Aladdin fans is the question he asks himself at the 14 minute mark - "what's next for James Monroe Iglehart?"  This video was post on 1st August 2012, two weeks before the D23 event where Alan Menken mentioned that the show was coming to Broadway.  Though he never actually says the words he certainly drops plenty of hints making this the first confirmation that Aladdin was being considered for Broadway!  And of course we all know what happened next!

Watching these has made me realise just how much I miss the interviews JMI did back in Seattle.  Now that the show has opened I really hope they let him do more.  They're essentially free publicity and fans love them, he's a great ambassador for the show.  As Genie would say, "Well, here's hoping!"

Artist Spotlight - Jonathan Freeman

Whilst I was away Disney Theatrical released the next entry in their Artist Spotlight series.  This is a very special episode and one I know that a lot of people have been waiting for - Jonathan Freeman on bringing Jafar from film to stage!


Broadway's Aladdin on TV & The Actors Fund Celebrates 20 Years of Disney on Broadway

On Tuesday 15th April Broadway's Aladdin will be making two very special appearances on ABC.  First they will be performing Arabian Nights on "Good Morning America" and then Prince Ali on "The View".  Playbill is reporting that there will also be a first look preview on "Good Morning America" on Monday 14th.

But it gets better!  If you live in New York and can get to the New Amsterdam Theatre that morning then the show's official website is offering you and five friends the chance to be part of the audience for this live recording!  And if that wasn't enough everyone who attends will receive a special gift and one audience member will receive a pair of tickets for that evening's performance of the show!  So head on over to www.aladdinthemusical.com/ontv for your chance to be a part of this special event!

That evening will also see Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw appear on ABC's "Nightline" along with stars Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart and Jonathan Freeman.

I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope that Disney Theatrical puts these up on their YouTube channel since we don't get ABC here in the UK.



And speaking of special events at the New Amsterdam Theatre, D23 is reporting that on Monday 27th April the theatre will play host to a special gala celebrating the 20th anniversary of Disney on Broadway.  This one night only event to benefit The Actors Fund will showcase the very best of Disney on Broadway with special cast appearances and production numbers from all of Disney's shows from 1994's Beauty and the Beast through to 2014's Aladdin.  Tickets range from the special low priced $20 for 20 years balcony tickets right through to $1500 full gala tickets which include the post-show cast party.  Tickets are available from The Actors Fund website.


I will be doing (hopefully sooner rather than later) a big round up of all the reviews and news that I missed whilst I've been away but obviously this piece was time sensitive so it jumped to the front of the queue!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Review - Aladdin Soars to A Whole New World on Broadway

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Deen Van Meer

What a difference 3 years makes.  When Disney first announced that Broadway's Aladdin would be an "all new" production I was sceptical.  Of course I was expecting new sets, new costumes and new special effects befitting a Broadway production with a bigger budget, along with some changes to the book and songs following feedback from the Pilot, regional and international productions, but to call it a completely new production?  That seemed a little excessive.  But, true to their word, that's what Disney have delivered.  The show that opened on Broadway on 20th March is an entirely new version of Aladdin.

Whilst the original production attempted to go back (as much as the film's story would allow) to Howard Ashman's original vision of Aladdin, this new production retains the musical comedy tone that Ashman envisioned but moves the story back closer to that of Disney's animated classic.  In particular, the removal of Aladdin's three friends as narrators (along with 3 reprises of Arabian Nights) noticeably changes the structure and pace of the show, and, as much as I did enjoy their 4th wall breaking antics, I have to admit that the show is much stronger for the change.

With Aladdin's friends no longer narrating, it is James Monroe Iglehart's Genie who now opens the show.  Appearing on stage to thunderous applause he quickly sets the tone for the evening, telling the audience "it is not what it outside, but what is inside that counts ... wow, got a little deep there".  Yes, this is Aladdin, but with a decidedly musical comedy twist.  Welcoming the audience to Agrabah (where "even our poor people look fabulous and everyone here has a minor in dance") he introduces us to our heroes and villains whilst leading the ensemble through a vigorously performed and expertly choreographed rendition of Arabian Nights.  It's a fantastic opening to the show, showcasing the vocal talents of the entire cast along with the energetic choreography of Director Casey Nicholaw and the rich and vibrant colours of the costumes, sets and lighting (more on those in a bit), and the best is still to come.

As a massive Disney fan, and an even bigger Aladdin fan, there was so much that I loved about this production, but if I had to pick just one thing that truly stands above the rest it would be the cast.  The energy and enthusiasm of this cast is simply infectious and you just can't help but smile along with them as they sing, dance and joke their way through this enchanting re-telling of the classic story.  Between Aladdin and Newsies Disney must have two of the best, and certainly hardest working, ensembles on Broadway.  This is a cast that's giving it their all and clearly loving every moment and no where is this more evident than when James Monroe Iglehart's Genie takes centre with a literally show stopping performance of Friend Like Me that brought the audience to their feet both times I saw the show.  Iglehart and the ensemble sing, dance, perform magic tricks and even have time to sing a few old classics before bringing everything to a rousing tap dance finale.  I can say without any doubt that the cast recording, as phenomenal as I expect it to be, just won't be able to do this song justice, you simply have to see it for yourself.  Iglehart, Adam Jacobs' Aladdin and the entire ensemble deserve every second of the applause and standing ovations that they have been receiving.


James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

But as incredible as Friend Like Me is, it wasn't my favourite moment in the show.  That came in Act 2 as Adam Jacobs' Aladdin asked Courtney Reed's Princess Jasmine "care to go for a ride?"  As she joined him on the magic carpet and the set pulled away the audience burst into applause as they took flight with no visible wires or support.  A Whole New World has never looked or sounded better and I'm not ashamed to admit that I had tears of joy in my eyes as I watched part of my childhood come alive on stage.

The heart of the show is Adam Jacobs' Aladdin, his romance with Courtney Reed's Jasmine, friendship with James Monroe Iglehart's Genie and his desire to make something of his life, a desire perfectly captured by Ashman/Menken's "lost" classic Proud of Your Boy and carried through the show by two new Menken/Beguelin reprises.  Adam Jacobs brings Aladdin to life with an earnest charm and winning smile.  He looks and sounds like Aladdin brought to life, if you closed your eyes at the start of One Jump Ahead you would swear you were watching the film, but more importantly he succeeds in finding the emotional core of the character, especially in the show's quieter moments like his duets with Jasmine and in his moving performance of Proud of Your Boy.  As Jasmine, Courtney Reed both looks and sounds beautiful as she brings the strong willed princess to life.  If there is any character who has benefitted most from the changes to the show then it's Jasmine.  Gone is the girl who playfully scarred off suitors by playing a diva in Call Me a Princess, in her place is modern, progressive woman (this Jasmine doesn't just want to marry for love, she want to rule at her future husband's side as his equal) and a beautiful new Menken/Beguelin song that better reflects Jasmine's character and her desire to explore beyond These Palace Walls.  More is also made of Jasmine's first experience of the market place and Courtney Reed gives Jasmine a sense of wonder as she takes in this new world.  The chemistry between Courtney and Adam is fantastic and their duets are some of my favourite moments in the show.

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Deen Van Meer

James Monroe Iglehart brings Genie to life with enough energy to light up Times Square all by himself!  Successfully taking the character back to Howard Ashman's vision of a Fats Waller/Cab Calloway song and dance man he makes the roll his own whilst still retaining the essence of Robin Williams' iconic film performance.  He's a born entertainer and holds the audience in the palm of his hand every moment he's on stage and leaves them begging for more every time that he goes back into his lamp.  One of the biggest questions about bringing Aladdin to the stage has always been "how do you do the Genie?"  James Monroe Iglehart is the answer.  Casting Jonathan Freeman as Jafar is at once obvious and absolute genius, his voice is so iconic and distinctive that the moment you hear it you think "Jafar!" but what really surprised me was just how much he looked the part as well.  His facial expressions in some scenes were absolutely perfect.  Jonathan knows the character inside and out, he knows what makes him tick, his mannerisms and his psychosis and he uses this to great effect, bringing the character to life as well on stage as he did on screen.  He is also perfectly paired with Don Darryl Rivera's Iago.  Though Iago has been changed from parrot to human (with a few knowing references to his avian origins) he still remains the same slightly abrasive, slightly sadistic character that everyone loved from the animated classic.  Making his Broadway debut Don Darryl Rivera displays expert comic timing and is perfectly cast as Jafar's evil henchman.  He and Jonathan Freeman have such fantastic chemistry together that it's a joy to watch them as they plot and scheme how to take control of Agrabah (with a healthy dose of grovelling on Iago's part).

Though Jafar still has Iago, in bringing the film to the stage Aladdin has lost Abu.  As much as I love the mischievous little monkey it was a smart choice, this isn't like The Lion King where everyone is an animal and a man in a monkey suit would look out of place in the world that Casey Nicholaw and his team have created.  In his place Aladdin now has three new friends, the courageous Kassim, the romantic, but slightly cowardly, Omar and the permanently hungry Babkak, brought to life by Brandon O'Neill (making his Broadway debut), Jonathan Schwartz and Brian Gonzales respectively.  No longer narrators the trio's roles have been reduced slightly since earlier productions of the show but this has ultimately strengthened their roles as Aladdin's friends.  The three give great performances and their high octane and comical rendition of High Adventure is one of the standout moments of the show's second act.  Brandon O'Neill also shows off his voice acting talents by providing the low rumbling bass of the Cave of Wonders.  Completing the principal cast, Clifton Davis brings a new gravitas and dignity to the Sultan and I'm happy to say that the part has been expanded from the film and earlier productions giving him a bit more to get his teeth into, including a new reprise of Prince Ali.  I also want to compliment standby Michael James Scott who gave a fantastic performance as Babkak at one of the two shows I attended.

Jonathan Freeman as Jafar and Don Darryl Rivera as Iago, Photo by Deen Van Meer

In addition to a dream cast Aladdin also had a creative dream team.  Bob Crowley (Scenic Design), Gregg Barnes (Costume Design) and Natasha Katz (Lighting Design) have between them managed to re-create the rich and vibrant look and colours of the animate film on stage making Aladdin a visual feast from beginning to end.  The costumes are just dazzling and the Cave of Wonders is a sight to behold both inside and out.  Speaking of sights to behold, I don't know how Illusion Designer Jim Steinmeyer made the magic carpet fly and I don't want to, I'm just happy that he did.  A Whole New World is simply breath taking.  Which brings me nicely to the music.  Alan Menken has always been my favourite composer and this show doesn't disappoint.  It has everything from soaring ballads and romantic duets to toe tapping show stoppers and even a sung action scene!  Considering that the show has three lyricists there is a remarkable seamlessness to both Aladdin's story and music and for that writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin has my deepest thanks and respect.  In addition to the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken and Alan Menken/Tim Rice songs from the film Aladdin brings back three of the best Ashman/Menken songs that were cut from the movie and has four new Menken/Beguelin songs and a few new reprises as well.  I've had these songs stuck in my head since leaving the theatre and can't wait to re-visit them when the cast album is released.  In charge of all of this is Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw.  The Tony Award winning Director of The Book of Mormon may have seemed like an odd choice when Disney were looking for someone to helm their next family friendly musical but Casey was undoubtedly the man for the job.  Magic carpets aside the spectacle of Aladdin is almost entirely human, this is a modern version of the traditional song and dance musical comedy and Casey Nicholaw's choreography is at its heart.  Friend Like Me and Prince Ali show that he knows how to build spectacle, but quieter moments like Proud of Your Boy (particularly its second act reprise) and A Million Miles Away show he also knows when to pull back and let the characters carry the scene, and with A Whole New World he manages to pull of both spectacular and intimate at the same time.

It took 19 years for Aladdin to make the transition from screen to stage and almost another 3 years for it to finally reach Broadway but if that's what was needed to bring this cast and creative team together then it was well worth the wait.  I had 3 years of built up expectations for this show, and seeing the Tuacahn's production only pushed those expectations higher, and I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint.  Seeing the original cast on a Broadway stage was a dream come true for me and I hope that the show has the long and successful run that it deserves.  Aladdin is a visual and musical delight and above all it's just great fun and I couldn't wish for anything more than that.



Aladdin: Broadway's New Musical Comedy officially opened on Broadway on 20th March 2014 at The New Amsterdam Theatre.  Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher, based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.

Starring Adam Jacobs, James Monroe Iglehart, Courtney Reed, Brian Gonzales, Brandon O'Neill, Jonathan Schwartz, Clifton Davis, Don Darryl Rivera and Jonathan Freeman as "Jafar"

Standbys Merwin Foard and Michael James Scott

The ensemble features Tia Altinay, Mike Cannon, Andrew Cao, Lauryn Ciardullo, Joshua Dela Cruz, Yurel Echezarreta, Daisy Hobbs, Donald Jones Jr., Adam Kaokept, Nikki Long, Stanley Martin, Brandt Martinez, Michael Mindlin, Rhea Patterson, Bobby Pestka, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Aleks Pevec, Ariel Reid, Jennifer Rias, Trent Saunders, Jaz Sealey, Dennis Stowe, Marisha Wallace and Bud Weber

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book and Additional Lyrics by Chad Beguelin, Associate Producer Anne Quart, Technical Supervision by Geoffrey Quart/Hudson Theatrical Associates and David Benken, Production Supervisor Clifford Schwartz, Production Managers Myriah Bash and Eduardo Castro, Associate Director Scott Taylor, Associate Choreographer John MacInnis, Casting by Tara Rubin Casting and Eric Woodall, CSA, Dance Music Arrangements by Glen Kelly, Music Coordinator Howard Joines, Fight Direction by J. Allen Suddeth, Sound Design by Ken Travis, Hair Design by Josh Marquette, Makeup Design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira, Illusion Design by Jim Steinmeyer, Costume Design by Gregg Barnes, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, Scenic Design by Bob Crowley, Orchestrations by Danny Troob, Music Supervision, Incidental Music and Vocal Arrangements by Michael Kosarin, Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

The premiere of Aladdin was produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA.  David Armstrong, Executive Producer & Artistic Director; Bernadine C. Griffin, Managing Director; Bill Berry; Producing Director.

Tickets are available from www.aladdinthemusical.com

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Deen Van Meer

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Opening Night - Direct from the Purple Carpet


Sorry for the lack of updates recently, after seeing Aladdin we spent some time with relatives in America so I only got back home earlier this week.  So without further ado it's time to play a little catch up, starting with the Aladdin's Purple Carpet Opening Night!


Following a very wet Wednesday night the sun was shining on Thursday as Disney Theatrical rolled out the purple carpet at the New Amsterdam Theatre for Aladdin's Broadway opening.

Jane and I arrived early enough to watch as the carpet was rolled out, pulled up and rolled out again to make sure that everything was just right for when the evening's guests started to arrive.



As well as getting a great spot to watch as everyone arrived, getting there early also meant I had the opportunity to briefly meet and thank Disney Theatrical's Dennis Crowley.  Back in 2011 it was Dennis who put me in touch with Bridget Summers at The 5th Avenue Theatre for Aladdin's Pilot Production, truly changing this blog for the better.

The first to arrive on the purple carpet was writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin;


He was soon joined by others from Aladdin's creative team;

Composer and Disney Legend Alan Menken

Composer Alan Menken and Writer/Lyricist Chad Beguelin

Musical Supervisor/Incidental Music/Vocal Arranger/Conductor Michael Kosarin and his family

Lighting Designer Natasha Katz and her family
Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw and Hair Designer Josh Marquette

Walt Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger;

Bob Iger with his wife Willow Bay

Head of Disney Animation and Pixar Studios John Lasseter;

John Lasseter with his wife Nancy Lasseter

And a host of Disney's Broadway stars both past, present and future;

Gavin Lee, Bert in Mary Poppins on Broadway and in the West End

Andy Richardson and Luca Padovan, Crutchie and Les in Newsies on Broadway


Corey Cott, Jack Kelly in Newsies on Broadway

Liana Hunt, Katherine in Newsies on Broadway

Josh Strickland, Broadway's Tarzan

Josh Strickland (Broadway's Tarzan) and fiancĂ© Todd DuBail who played both Clayton in Tarzan and Kassim in Aladdin at the Tuacahn

Zachary Unger and Luca Padovan, Les in Newsies on Broadway

Andrew Keenan-Bolger, the original Omar from Aladdin's 5th Avenue Pilot Production and Newsies' original Crutchie, with Submissions Only co-creator Kate Wetherhead 

John Tartaglia, Lumiere in Broadway's Beauty and the Beast and Genie in The Muny's Aladdin

Laura Michelle Kelly, Mary Poppins on Broadway and in the West End

Harvey Fierstein (book writer, Newsies) with Gabriel Ebert

Patrick Page, Scar in Broadway's The Lion King and soon to be Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Patrick Page and Michael Arden, Frollo and Quasimodo in the upcoming The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Sierra Boggess and Sherie Rene Scott, Ariel and Ursula from Broadway's The Little Mermaid

So the guests had arrived.  Backstage the cast and crew were ready;



It was show time!




Then it was time for the cast to take their well earned bows!

The Cast of Aladdin, Photo from Zimbio

You can find many more curtain call photos (as well as professional purple carpet arrival photos) at Zimbio, Playbill and Broadway World (purple carpet and curtain call).

For me, the best part of the purple carpet experience was getting to shake hands with and say thank you to Chad Beguelin and Casey Nicholaw before they met with the press photographers.  It was fantastic moment for me, just to be able to say thank you to two of the men responsible for finally bringing Aladdin to the Broadway stage.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Opening Night - Let's Make Some Magic!!

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
It's been a long road to Broadway for Aladdin but tonight that wait is finally over as Aladdin officially opens on Broadway!!

I'm still in Disney Heaven having seen the show last night, it's an amazing production with a truly fabulous cast and deserves every success.  There's nothing else I can say really besides good luck to everyone at the New Amsterdam Theatre tonight, this is your moment, enjoy it and let's make some magic!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Make a Wish, Say a Prayer

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Deen Van Meer

Tonight is the night!  After following this show from 5th Avenue's 2011 Pilot right through to this year's Broadway debut, in less than 4 hours I will finally see Aladdin come alive on a Broadway stage.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has read this blog and supported me over the years, especially Bridget Summers at 5th Avenue, Heidi Anderson at The Tuacahn, Brendan Padgett at Disney Theatrical, Tipawan Reed and this incredible cast.  It's been an amazing few years and this is only the beginning!

Make some magic tonight everyone, lets end these previews with a bang!