Tuesday, 27 September 2011

There's a Rub of the Lamp!

Well that was fast!

Yesterday it was announced that Aladdin: The New Stage Musical will be brought to life once again, this time at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in Southern Utah!

"The Southern Utah desert will be transformed into an Arabian oasis when Tuacahn presents the stage musical adaptation of the Disney film “Aladdin” as part of the outdoor venue’s 2012 season.

Aladdin” will be performed in repertory with the Broadway musicals “Hairspray” (summer) and “Legally Blonde” (fall). The announcement comes as Tuacahn is experiencing its most successful season to date, featuring Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and the nostalgic musical “Grease.”

Based on the acclaimed 1992 Disney film, “Aladdin” will be performed each Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening, June 1 - Oct. 18. Tickets are now available at the Tuacahn box office, by calling 652-3300 or online at http://www.tuacahn.org/.

The music for “Aladdin” is written by eight-time Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken (“Tangled,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”); lyrics are by the late Howard Ashman (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”), Tim Rice (“The Lion King,” “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and Chad Beguelin (“The Wedding Singer”), who also crafted the new book for the show.

Variety hailed the new full-length stage version of “Aladdin” as “fresh, funny and very entertaining.”

This new stage adaptation premiered at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in July 2011 and incorporates all of the beloved songs from the film’s Oscar-winning score plus never-before heard Menken/Ashman songs restored from early drafts of the score. It marks a return to the authors’ original vision: a loving homage to the Hope-Crosby road pictures with a score invoking the jazz sound of stars like Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.

Tuacahn will be one of two theaters in the nation to present the show next year.

Released in 1992, the film “Aladdin” received critical acclaim and grossed more than $504 million worldwide becoming the No. 1 film of the year. Adapted from the classic Middle Eastern and Asian folktales in “One Thousand and One Nights,” “Aladdin” tells the story of a quick-witted young street dweller that uses the magic wishes from an omnipotent Genie to pursue the hand of a beautiful princess. The beloved film featured the Oscar-winning song, “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me” and was praised for its clever script and show-stopping score.

Scott S. Anderson, Tuacahn’s artistic director, will direct “Aladdin.” Anderson also helmed the Tuacahn premieres of “The Little Mermaid,” “Tarzan” and “Les Miserables” and will assemble an eclectic cast, crew, and creative team of professionals from Utah, California and New York to bring the show to life in Tuacahn’s typical thrilling fashion.

Aladdin” is licensed through a special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions and Music Theater International in New York. Tuacahn is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization."

I checked the website and can't see the tickets listed there yet, so if you want to book tickets now your best bet is to call Tuacahn.

I wouldn't expect any of the original Seattle cast to return for this product (though I would love it if they did), so stay tuned for further news as this production gets underway in the new year.

I'm not going to be able to update the blog for the next few weeks, but if any news does come out during that time you can be sure I'll have a summary post up as soon as I can.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

All Your Years of Loyal Service

Earlier this month I interviewed Princess Jasmine, today I'm very honoured to be able to present my second "royal" interview from Aladdin: The New Stage Musical.  Sean G. Griffin has had a long and distinguished career on both stage and screen, and recently he very kindly spent some of his time answering my questions about his work and his time as the Sultan.

Hi Sean,

Firstly let me say congratulations on winning the role of the Sultan in the Seattle production of Aladdin and thank you for agreeing to this interview!

chris i have finally got some time to answer some of your questions...sorry it taken me so long...please pardon my typos and misspellings and the no caps rule

Now to start off, you’ve been an actor all your life and have starred in so many productions (both on stage and on screen) that I’ve never been able to find a website which actually lists your full resume! So can you please tell us a bit about yourself, your career, and who have been your biggest influences.

i became a professional actor in 1968 when i got out of graduate school...spent a year in the regions and got my union card and headed for new york in 1969...i know i sent you my resume which lists some of my work...i worked in new york on broadway in six plays and many more in the regions...one of my biggest influences was colleen dewhurst with whom i acted with on broadway in THE QUEEN AND THE REBELS and was directed by her in NED AND JACK...she was one of the best theatre actresses of her time and became a great friend and mentor...i was married in the seventies for seven years and have a wonderful daughter from that relationship and now two terrific grandkids...i was divorced for twelve years and remarried 20 years ago to my current wife, Bernie who is one of my influences as well as my rock.

Do you remember Aladdin from its original release? Were you a fan of the film before you got the part?

i only watched aladdin with the a couple of years ago so i hadn't seen it before that.

How did you come to be involved with Aladdin? Did you take part in the original reading or did you audition for the Seattle production? What was the process like?

i auditioned for the seattle production at the 5th ave. theatre where i had worked in the past...i also had worked for our director, casey nicholaw, when he choreographed MY FAIR LADY in two different productions...when i heard about aladdin i emailed him and told him i was interested in trying out...so i got the call and it was one of the most enjoyable auditions because of him that i have ever been on because most are difficult (i hate auditions)...he was in the room along with the entire creative team for disney theatricals and made me feel so relaxed because of his positive vibe and encouragement.

What was your reaction when you were told you’d got the part?

a week or so later i got the part of the sultan...i was needless to say overjoyed in getting the role but also in knowing i was going to work for casey and disney.

Sean G Griffin as Sultan, Photo by Mark Kitaoka

What was it that attracted you to Aladdin as a show and the Sultan as a character? And can you please tell us a little about your approach to the role and re-creating the character for the stage.

aladdin is such a wonderful story and the music by alan menken is so touching and moving and such a universal piece that i always in the process knew i wanted to play the sultan...age does enter into it and it was the only role for an old fart that was available...i tried not to let the animated film influence me in any way and just brought my experience as a father of a daughter to the part...always make it your own and it was easy with casey's help to bring some humor to the part as well... so i wasn't "re-creating" a part... i was with casey creating a whole new character based on the book.

As I’m writing this the final changes have been made, the show’s been frozen and you’ve just had your official opening night. Whilst we’re still waiting for the reviews, audience reaction seems to have been overwhelmingly positive over the last few weeks. What’s the whole process been like from your side of the stage?

the entire process has been exhilerating...fun and scary at the same time.

What is the most rewarding part of the show for you, and which part do you find most challenging?

as you know in a musical the book scenes take a back seat to the songs and choreography in rehearsal so this makes it scary in that we didn't get as much time to prepare but when we started previews then we got the chance to run with them and they turned out pretty good from the audience to them...so i would say the most challenging part of the process is the lack of rehearsal time for the book scenes but we made up for that in previews...the most rewarding part of the entire process was working with casey and his team and the audience response night after night.

Sean G. Griffin as Sultan with Courtney Reed as Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka

I know the show was only announced as a pilot production for licensing out, but if the show ever makes it to Broadway or a National Tour, could we see you as the Sultan again?

needless to say if the broadway production takes place i would love to be a part of it but as an actor one tries not to think of what might or might not happen...only when we are signing that contract do we know that we have work.

How do you prepare before a show? Do you have any superstitions or routines that you do before you go on stage each night?

in preparing for a show i usually arrive at the theatre an hour and a half or two hours before curtain...i like to relax and go over my script and any notes that may be new for that performance...as for superstitions or routines there are some but i'll keep those to myself...i am superstitious about revealing them.

Looking to the future, do you have any dream roles that you would love to do?

dream roles??...james tyrone in Long Days Journey...maybe one of the tramps in Godot...and maybe Lear...and the teacher in Translations.

Sean G. Griffin as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

Looking back over your career so far, do any moments or performances really stand out as something truly special that you’ll always remember?

performances that i remember and cherish...Michael in Dancing at Lughnasa... Richard in The Seafarer...Da in The Lieutenant of Inishmore...Marat in Marat Sade...Scrooge in A Christmas Carol...Pickering in My Fair Lady...to name a few...and whatever role i am curently doing.

And finally, I read in an interview that as well as being an actor you’re also an artist. Where can fans find examples of your work and might we see some Aladdin inspired pieces in the future?

i find painting very relaxing and have paintings hanging in Laguna Beach, New York, Seattle, Indianapolis, and many more places but all in private collections...one of these days maybe i'll get a website with someones help that know how to do that.

Sean, thank you again for your time, it’s been a pleasure. All the best for the show!

take care...sincerely...sean g. griffin

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Dazzling Place I Never Knew

Today I'm very happy to present an interview with Princess Jasmine herself, Courtney Reed!  But before we start I just want to say a very special thank you to both Courtney and her mom as they've both been incredibly supportive and offered me a lot of encouragement with this blog.

Hi Courtney,

Thanks again for agreeing to an interview, I really appreciate you giving up your time to do this.

Firstly, I’d just like to say how great you were on New Day Northwest last week. "Call Me a Princess" was probably the last song that I expected to make it back into the show, but the new context you put it in is fantastic and you looked like you were really having fun with it.


Finally!!! My answers are below your questions. I hope this works! ;)

Thanks for the "Call Me a Princess" compliment!!!  I truly appreciate your and the fans' support and encouragement.

When did you first decide you wanted to be in musical theatre, and who (or what) would you say have been your biggest influences?

I always wanted to be like my sister growing up. She took dance class, so I took dance class. She performed in our hometown community theatre shows, so I did the same. I think the moment I knew I wanted to do this forever was when I was cast as Annie (yeah I know...ethnic Annie). The feeling I got after hitting the money note in "Tomorrow," was IT for me. It was over, I knew there was nothing else for me to do. I don't think I have a singular person or people that most influenced it. I have always admired Lea Salonga. Her voice is magic to me!

How did you get your first big break?

This is a funny/long winded story. I will give you the short version. Shorty after graduation from The Theatre Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University (yeah long name right?) my agents (in Chicago) called me in for Mamma Mia! I went to the audition (thinking it was for the tour), and got a callback. Then a few days later my agent called and said "You wanna be on Broadway?" My life changed in an instant! They said, you will be in the ensemble and understudying Ali. You will have to move to NY in two weeks. I had never been to New York or seen a broadway show! The first show I ever say was the show I was going to be in! I STILL can't believe it!

Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka
On New Day Northwest you called Jasmine a dream role. Were you a big fan of the Disney classics growing up, and if so did you have a favorite film or character?

Aladdin was definitely one of my favorites! We actually have a room in my basement that was called the "Aladdin room," (toy room) because there is an Aladdin mural with the Genie and Abu on it. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter Pan were my other favs! I have to admit, Jasmine was always my favorite character! She was just the coolest! So sassy, sexy and strong! Definitely a force to be reckoned with!

You auditioned for the reading last year, then had to audition again for the Seattle production. What was the audition process like to get the role?

The audition was actually really easy! I already knew the material (hehe), so it didn't take much to re-memorize them. However I did make sure I was 100% prepared. It was super quick and easy and the only new person in the audition room was Casey, and I must say it is not hard auditioning for a room full of happy and supportive people. They are all the best!

When you finally heard that you’d been successful what was your reaction like?

I guess I considered my first paying acting job a success. The only thing I ever wanted from being an actress was to make a living doing what I love. This in itself is a huge success for me! So I guess my reaction to that is HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!

With all the changes to incorporate the "lost" Howard Ashman songs how similar is Jasmine to the animated version? Does she get a bigger character arc or more layers in the show?

I would have to say that Jasmine has a little feature that shows off another side of her that you don't get to really see in the movie. However the show stays pretty close to the animated film in all of the good ways (if that makes any sense).

How much freedom have you been given in (re)creating Jasmine for stage and what are the challenges of originating such a famous character in a new show?

We were sooooo lucky to have lots of freedom from Casey to play, of course within certain limits. The challenge for me was to stay true to the essence of this beloved character but to also make it my own. I guess I feel in any role you play you always have to make it your own, but for this particular character that I love and admired so much I wanted to stay true to the film but put my own self in it (which I feel was not too difficult because Jasmine and I are not very different hehehe).

Apart from "Call Me a Princess" do you get many other new songs? Adam teased that he has at least a line or two in 11 songs, so obviously there’s a lot of new numbers in the show!

Well I got to sing the "Call Me a Princess Reprise," and Adam and I got to sing this gorgeous new duet called, "A Million Miles Away."

Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine with Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Chris Bennion
The show is said to have some spectacular dance numbers. With your extensive dance training, can we expect some big dance numbers for Jasmine?

I must say that I get to actually dance a little bit in "Call Me a Princess." It is by no means a big dance number, but she certainly dances more than in the movie ;)

If you can say, what is the most rewarding part of the show for you, and which part do you find most challenging?

The most rewarding part of the show for me is seeing the audience and hearing them respond. Seeing the little girl's faces at the stage door with their Jasmine costumes on, or watching the audience jump to their feet for the curtain call is the most rewarding part for me. If I can make a contribution in any way to making people happy or inspired...my job is done. I don't find too much challenging about this show, I love it so much it feels more like a luxury than a challenge ;)

How do you prepare before a show? Do you have any superstitions or routines that you do before you go on stage each night?

I like to warm up to the radio! I either warm up to the radio or to pandora (Beyonce is always a good channel because she uses her whole vocal range in many of her songs). I also like to hit the gym before a show, it warms my body and voice up. It gives me a jolt of energy. I chose the gym over coffee or energy drinks!

Looking to the future, do you have any other dream roles that you would love to do?

Jasmine is pretty much the pinnacle of dream roles for me at the moment. I have always wanted to play Kim in "Miss Saigon" though!

Courtney Reed in In The Heights, Photo by Joan Marcus
And finally, looking back over your career so far, do any moments or performances really stand out as something truly special that you’ll always remember?

Closing night for "In The Heights," was possibly one of the most memorable experiences of my life next to my broadway debut (as far as my career goes). However my Aladdin experience as a whole may have topped those. I had an incredible experience one day in rehearsal when they decided to give "A Whole New World," a face lift (for lack of better words). They decided to make it new and fresh. The next day when our musical director (Michael Kosarin) played through the brand new arrangement for us, I couldn't stop crying. To top the experience off, Alan Menken was there as well and it was just a huge rush of emotions. It sounded like the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Adam and I really connected that day. My other favorite day was the sitzprobe, hearing these original orchestrations for the very first time with the full piece orchestra, and getting to sing along was electrifying!

Courtney, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.  I wish you all the best for the future and look forward to hearing what you're doing next (and hopefully seeing you as Princess Jasmine on Broadway one day...)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Where they Cut Off Your Ear if they don't Like Your Face

I'm afraid my "review" of the London screening is going to be a little late.  We didn't get home until midnight last night and a trip to the walk in centre this morning (no worries, nothing serious) threw out my planned blogging time as I had prior commitments this afternoon/evening.  So I'll update this post Monday/Tuesday with a proper update.

For now I'll just say it was an amazing, emotional experience, and yes it was the original lyrics for "Arabian Nights"!

Sorry for the delay everyone!  I've still not had chance to put the pictures on my computer so I'll add them soon (hopefully this weekend).

After an early morning start (like 5am early!) Jane and I drove from Manchester to London.  Yeah, I "dragged" my poor wife with me, not that she was complaining, the only thing that upset Jane was that Beauty and the Beast (her favourite Disney Classic) was on the week before and had sold out before we remembered BFI was doing The Disney 50!  We were lucky that the weather was really good so we got to spend a nice morning walking around the city before heading to the cinema to pick up our tickets.

The first thing I saw in the cinema was the old poster which straight away brought back memories.  We collected our tickets, went back outside for an ice cream, then went back in just in time to hear an announcement asking the audience to make their way to their seats as the film was ready to start.  I've not been to the BFI before and I have to say it's a really nice cinema with comfy seats and an intimate atmosphere.  The screen is set back (they still have the old fashioned curtains) and isn't as high as most modern cinemas so you don't have to strain your neck if you're on the front row like we were.

The curtains opened partially and they played the classic black and white short Donald's Crime.  It was a treat as I'd never seen it before and it really did help to take me back to being a kid again when Disney used to play the shorts before the main feature.  It was also gave a good feeling for the atmosphere the screening was going to have.  Going in I'd been expecting a mix of parents taking their children to see the film (maybe they'd seen it themselves growing up or maybe they were a bit older than that and just thought they'd take their kids to a Disney movie) and people who were mid-20s to mid-30s who had grown up with the film like me.  Instead the audience was almost full of people in my age range, there were a few kids but no where near the amount I'd expected.  The atmosphere was fantastic, really relaxed and yet at the same time there was an excitement, an anticipation for seeing an old childhood favourite on the big screen once again.

Once the short had finished the lights came up briefly as they let a few stragglers take their seats, then the lights went down again, the curtains opened fully, and the old Buena Vista International logo came on the screen, followed by the classic Disney Castle logo.  Now, I love the new castle logo and I think the castle looks beautiful, but seeing the old logo on the big screen with the classic music behind it almost teared me up, maybe it's an emotional connection to the past but it just has a quality that no CG image can match.

Honestly, I'd been expecting them to use the re-mastered DVD version of the film but from the slight grainy quality to the logo it was apparent that they were using one of the original film prints.  The real surprise came when the Narrator started to sing "where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face, it's barbaric but hey it's home".  I think I missed the next line just picking my jaw up off the floor in surprise!  I'd never seen the original film before (Aladdin only came out in 1993 in the UK so the lyric changes had already been made).  As far as I was aware this was the first time this version had been shown in the UK, though I later found out there was a London screening last year that also used an original US print of the film, not sure how I missed that!

As much as I love seeing the fully re-mastered vibrant colours of the DVD, I have to admit there was something refreshing to watching the original with the grain, its more muted colours and slightly less fluid animation.  I'd love it if Disney actually included the unrestored original versions on their DVD/Blu-Ray releases as bonuses, but sadly I don't think that'll happen any time soon.  Though I do have to admit digital has one major advantage over traditional film reels - this particular print of Aladdin had obviously been repaired at somepoint and lost a second or two of footage as Iago now says "I'm embarrassed, I'm blush-" before the film quickly cuts to the next scene!

The atmosphere, as I said earlier, was absolutely amazing.  You could tell from the laughter that everyone was having a great time and still loved an old childhood favourite (and now got all the jokes they probably missed when they were younger!) and it was refreshing to see it with an audience of people who probably haven't watched the film almost constantly for the last 20 years.  When you've seen the film so much that you can quote the next 5 lines without even trying, it can sometimes become a little mechanical.  You still love it, but you know where your favourite parts are, you know all the strengths and weaknesses, you know where to laugh.  To see it again with people who probably haven't seen it since the DVD came out, or maybe even earlier, lets you see it through new eyes.  I found myself laughing at parts I haven't laughed at in a long time and enjoying the film on another level.

What really got me more than anything else was the applause at the end of the film.  I'm not sure if it's a big deal in the US, but in the UK it almost never happens unless it's at a fan event (like midnight openings for Star Wars).  I was a little emotional anyway just seeing it on the big screen again, but the clapping really touched me and yeah I'll admit it made me cry a bit as well, and for that moment I felt a connection with everyone in the room.  And everyone stayed till the end of the credits.

Whilst Aladdin fanbase is strong and full of amazing people, we alone are not enough to keep a Broadway show open.  But sat in that cinema last weekend (and next weekend) were the people who can.  The casual fans who enjoyed the film in their childhood, who still love it and probably own the DVD, but don't visit fansites or message boards or blogs.  I don't live in London but as far as I'm aware there's been little to no advertising for the BFI's Disney 50 event, but Aladdin, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King sold out.  A 20 year old animated movie, easily available on DVD (Aladdin was re-released as a Musical Masterpiece after the Platinum Edition went back in the vault so unlike the other 2 it's never been off the shelves over here) sold out.  And it didn't sell out to families with young children, it sold out to adults who loved the film as kids and who still love it as adults.  The same audience who I'm sure, along with their friends and families, helped to fill 5th Avenue every night in Seattle for most of July. The audience is there for Aladdin: The New Stage Musical, if Disney just reached out and asked for it.

Oh, and we decided to visit the new M&M's World in Leicester Square and it's actually bigger than the one in Times' Square!  And they have human sized M&M's that dance The Macarena!  It has to been seen to be believed!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Keep Your Hands and Arms Inside the Carpet!

Still no updates on the future of Aladdin: The New Stage Musical but I am expecting at least two more cast interviews in the (hopefully) near future.

In the mean time I'm off to London tomorrow to see Aladdin on the big screen for the first time since I was a kid!  I won't review the film (I'm way too biased and let's face it, if you're reading this you really don't need a review of the film!) but I will post something later this weekend about the trip and what it was like seeing it on the big screen again.