Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Would they see a Poor Boy? No Siree

Opinion post?  I've not done one of these in ages!  There's just been too much news to report to get round to doing this, not to mention the "week off" I had to get married and not seeing the show certainly doesn't make it any easier!

I've got two goals with this post.  The first is to look objectively at the criticisms in the reviews, see where they agreed, where they disagreed and look at the criticisims from the point of view of a fan.  The second thing is asking for your help, but I'll come to that shortly.

Firstly, let's get one thing straight.  The show did not get bad reviews.  It didn't get absolutely glowing reviews and universal praise, but almost everyone agreed that it is a very good show, it just has room for improvement.  In fact it's interesting to note that the most critical are the more professional reviewers, whilst "ordinary" people who have posted reviews have been almost universal in their praise which is telling of the quality of the show.

And the cast (this amazing cast that I absolutely love) got very good reviews.  Sure there are a few reviews where one reviewer or another didn't like a certain actor or actress, but for every review that said "this actor didn't suit that role/could be better" there were more reviews that said the same actor "was fantastic and perfect for the role".  That's always going to be the case, especially in long running shows or productions like Aladdin where people already have very strong ideas in their head about what the character should be like.

Comparing the Show to the Film
Whilst this isn't an issue for most reviews, I thought I'd mention it here as one reviewer did spend most of their time comparing the show (especially the characters) to the film and more importantly a lot of people who went to see the show or are going to see the show this week (or would go to see the show if Disney did a tour of took it to Broadway) will likely do so expecting to see a more traditional adaptation along the lines of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.

The reason for the change was because Alan Menken wanted to go back to the original vision he and Howard Ashman had for Aladdin so that Howard's "lost" songs could be worked back into the story (if you're reading this you probably already knew that).  But whilst the story has been expanded with these new characters and songs, from all the reports coming out of Seattle it's clear this is still the original story at heart, it's just had new layers added to it (Sarah Ashman Gillespie actually says in her review they didn't go back to Howard's original story line).  The biggest change is therefore one of tone, going back to the original idea of a homage to the Hope-Crosby road movies.

This leads into one of the main criticisms that seems to be directed at the show; the breaking of the 4th wall.  It gets broken.  A lot.  Whilst on the one hand I can understand why some reviewers feel that this should be reserved for the Genie, it's important to remember than as well as being Aladdin's friends, Babkak, Omar and Kassim are also the Narrators of the story.  And what did the Narrator do in Aladdin?  He broke the 4th wall before we'd even seen the Genie's lamp.  This isn't something new for the stage show, it's just been extended along with the role of the Narrators, and it all goes back to the original vision of Aladdin as a Hope-Crosby buddy movie (it's interesting to note here that the 3 Howard Ashman songs that remain in the animated classic are all sung by characters who break the 4th wall, it's a coincidence brought about by the changes to the story, but still something to think about).

Most reviews (and more importantly comments from regular audience members) have praised the new characters, the new tone and the changes to the story that came with them, even though most of them more than likely went in expecting to see the film on stage.  If Disney does change anything from this production based on the reviews I sincerely hope that they stay true to the original vision of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that was revived for this production.

Call Me a Princess
I'm not going to comment on the cast (for one thing I'm way too biased and casts will always change over time no matter how good they are), but I thought Jasmine's character was worth mentioning here due to some of the comments in the reviews.

Seattle Times says;

"Aladdin's spunky love interest, is introduced with the off-putting "Call Me a Princess," a Menken-Ashman tune cut from the film, in which she fends off suitors by being screechingly obnoxious. (Reed's much more appealing in her sweet duets with Jacobs, starting with a pretty new Menken-Beguelin ballad, "A Million Miles Away")."

Now maybe I'm mis-reading the review, but isn't the point of "Call Me a Princess" to be off-putting?  As the review says she's trying to deter unwanted suitors.  Surely the fact that she's off-putting in "Call Me a Princess" and appealing in "A Million Miles Away" is simply in character!

Another review says we don't see the character change throughout the show, but again there isn't meant to be character arc from spoilt brat to the Jasmine we know and love from the film as the spoilt brat from "Call Me a Princess" is just an act put on by the character for that one scene.

Emotion Vs Comedy
Variety's review claims that the show has very few earnest moments (such as "Proud of Your Boy") and because of that they feel out of place next to the comedy which is the main focus of the show.  Now I've not seen the show so I can't speak from personal opinion, but none of the other reviews mention this and just looking at the song list shows that whilst there is a lot of comedy there are plenty of earnest moments as well.  Chad Beguelin even said way back before the show opened that the Aladdin and Jasmine romance was being kept true to the film and it's been said by others that most of the comedy comes from Genie, Iago and the trio which allows Aladdin and Jasmine to remain more earnest characters.

A Whole New World
The big one.  This scene seems to cause the biggest divide amongst all the reviewers.  Some find it beautiful in its simplicity (and the pictures do look gorgeous), others feel that it fall flat in its staging.  Now I can appreciate that you'll never please everyone, but a scene this important shouldn't be so divisive.  If Disney do decide to bring Aladdin: The New Stage Musical to Broadway then this may be the one bit of staging that could use another look.

Which brings me (finally) to the second part of this post.  Myself and others at Aladdin Central have been discussing the show and the reviews and have come to the conclusion that we need to let both 5th Avenue and Disney Theatrical know what the fans think of Aladdin: The New Stage Musical and our desire to see it come to Broadway (or at least an official National Tour by Disney before they license it out).  Whilst ticket sales are obviously the most important indicator of success, the reviews are very important in determining the future of the show (you can bet if the show had fantastic reviews and sold out all performances then Disney would be thinking very seriously about a Broadway run).  Therefore we need to make our voices heard.  Whilst 5th Avenue's facebook page is full of praise for the show, the best way to do this is the old fashioned way - by mail.  Write to them, tell them you support the show, if you've seen it say what you loved, offer constructive criticism if you have any, if you disagree with the reviews (as above) then tell them why you think they're wrong in their criticism, even if you've not seen the show (which is probably most of you) please write to them and tell them how much you support the show and want to see it on Broadway and/or a National Tour.  But please remember to be polite and constructive!

Here's the addresses you need;

David Armstrong
Artistic Director/Executive Producer
5th Avenue Theatre
1308 5th Avenue
WA 98101

Thomas Schumacher
Disney Theatrical Group
214 W. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

5th Avenue want the show to do well, it's in their interest for the show to go to Broadway as they will get a share of the profits as they helped develop the show, but Disney have to be convinced the show is worth taking to Broadway.  This is in no way saying that Disney are against the show, it's only thanks to Disney that we have the show in the first place, but Disney have been burned a lot on Broadway in  recent years with both Tarzan and The Little Mermaid closing early (though The Little Mermaid was at least in part due to high operating costs in a poor economy) so they're not going to take the risk unless they think it's worth it, especially when they can make money from licensing the show out without taking on any of the risks of producing it themselves.  Aladdin: The New Stage Musical has in it's favour the fact that it's been designed and produced on a budget, so if it should go to Broadway the risks are much lower as the operating costs are (apparently) very low compared to most major Broadway shows, plus it has had an extraordinarily high level of public and media interest when you consider that this is (officially) a pilot production of a licensable show and not a pre-Broadway run, and more importantly audience reaction at 5th Avenue has been nothing short of amazing and if they can transport that to Broadway they're looking at a winner.


  1. How does the climax of the show compare to the movie (you know, from the wedding announcement to Jafar getting power to the snake fight to the end, etc.)?

  2. Well, I hate to burst your guys's bubbles, but if it were to be liscensed to regional theatres, then multiple interpretations of the show would be playing at once all around the world

  3. but then again, if it were to hit broadway, we would get a cast recording...

  4. Jon - I wish I knew! I'm sure in the coming days/weeks someone will provide a more in depth summary of the show and when they do I'll put all the details here.

    Austin - I guess it really depends what you want to see. As much as I love seeing regional and amateur productions, the first time I see Aladdin I want it to be the real thing done by Disney.

    Broadway World recently posted pictures of a regional production of The Little Mermaid and a short video of a regional production of Tarzan. Tarzan's set and costumes looked pretty close to Broadway's from what I could tell (not seen more than short clips of either) but The Little Mermaid's set and costumes were a far cry from the original productions. If it's the only way to see it then I'd do it, but it's certainly not how I'd want to see it for the first time.

    If the show comes to Broadway then we'll get a cast recording. Whilst not as certain, I think if Disney did a tour we'd get a CD. However, I hate to say it but I feel Disney have been very short sighted in not doing a recording of this production for a number of reasons;

    1 - they (currently) don't plan on doing the show again
    2 - the quality of the cast (and the fact that they have Jonathan Freeman back as Jafar)
    3 - Howard Ashman - Disney's revival in 1989 owed a LOT to Howard and Alan Menken, this was his last work, some of his best work and it never made it past the demo stage until now. It deserves to be recorded properly and now Disney seem to have missed their chance which is a great loss not only to them (financially) but also to Aladdin fans and fans of Howard Ashman and musical theatre.