Saturday, 21 July 2012

Reflections on Aladdin - The 1st Anniversary

A year ago tonight at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Aladdin: The New Stage Musical officially opened following two weeks of previews.  To celebrate the show's first anniversary I'm very happy to present a series of reflections on the show by those involved with it.

Some of these are taken from previous interviews as I have not been able to reach everyone (and this piece was done with fairly short notice, so it is possible a few new contributions will be added in the near future) but there are also new reflections that the cast and writer have kindly contributed especially for the show's first anniversary.

"Well it has to be something that appeals to me and appeals to the storytelling of it, the script has to be good, smart, or even if the script isn’t good to start with it needs to have an idea that I feel like I latch on to, because sometimes you go ‘this is not the show for me’ and, you know, someone could do it better, you know, if I’m not the person for it, I’m not the person for it, you know. So there’s certain ones that I just totally respond to and when Aladdin came my way I thought ‘oh my gosh, I would love to do this’."

Director Casey Nicholaw on The JMI Show on what he looks for in a script/why he chose Aladdin.

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Chris Bennion
"I have such fond memories of my time in Seattle. I can remember how much fun we had all throughout the rehearsal process, trying different things and laughing at each other when something didn't go as planned. Whether it was the cumbersome prop camels misbehaving, or the trick canes shooting off in all directions, or the harem girls getting stuck in the columns... It was all just pure entertainment. I remember laughing so hard watching the chorus fighting their way through the mylar curtain during "Friend Like Me" and getting completely tangled. There were many manic moments like that (The backstage mayhem during "Prince Ali", my onstage quick change into Prince Ali, etc.) and it makes you wonder how we all pulled it off. That's where you have to credit the genius of someone like Casey Nicholaw-- he had the vision and somehow made it work. Also, the improvisational talent in the show really impressed me. I always looked forward to whatever Brian Gonzales, Andrew-Keenan Bolger, and Brandon O'Neill would come up with next. They played off each other so well. James Iglehart truly embodied this creative genius with his comic one-liners and free-flowing associations. Between those four actors it really was a masterclass in improvisation. Being able to work directly with Alan Menken was a dream too, being in the room and watching him rethink/rewrite the classic,"A Whole New World" and then singing it with him? I mean, come on. It doesn't get much better than that. All in all, I feel like we created something very special and I think the audiences enjoyed the ride. I don't think I could've wished for a better experience."

Adam Jacobs (Aladdin)

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and Courtney Reed as Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka
"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!

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 job is done."

Courtney Reed on her favorite moments of Aladdin and the rewards of playing Jasmine.

"I can honestly say Aladdin was one of the best times I have ever had in a show! Not only did I get to act a fool with my dear friends (Daniel J. Watts & Brian Gonzales), I made some new friends to act a fool with namely Brandon O'neill, Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, Don Darryl Rivera, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, & Jonathan Freeman. Also working with Casey Nickolaw was a blast!

This cast was just so much fun to work with! They also let me get away with all kinds of things. They would challenge me to make up new stuff on stage & I love improv so I just had a field day on stage coming up with new bits. My favorite was the last day of the show when I decided, with some egging on from DDR (Don Darryl who played Iago), to play with the sign language interpreters! I walked up behind them & just started saying stuff & watching them have to sign whatever I said! The audience was going crazy & poor Adam had to hold it together & do his best not to break! It was a classic moment that will stay with me forever!

My dream as a kid was to work with the Disney company & I got to and I will never forget what a wonderful time I had!"

James Monroe Iglehart (Genie)

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Chris Bennion

"There is a small treasure trove of Howard Ashman's material here, and I feel a responsibility to bring every song we wrote to fruition if I can because he was ... just the best, you know? I've had so many wonderful collaborators, but there was only one Howard Ashman. I think people are going to love the material in here."

Alan Menken on the music in Aladdin when interviewed by Talkin’ Broadway.

"It’s been a great treat to do it, it’s a fantastic company, the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle is a wonderful place to work and Seattle is just a wonderful place to be ... I feel sure that something will happen with Aladdin, I don’t where, I mean you know there’s a lot of possibilities it could be it’s decided to take it on a big national tour or they could decide to do it internationally first, which Disney has been doing with some of their shows. Certainly I would say, I’m guessing but I think I’m guessing right, most people involved with this particular production would love to see it go to Broadway. I think it would be very successful judging from the audience here and just listening to the show every night, it’s just a great show, it moves very quickly, it just moves and it engages the audience instantly, this particular version of it, and they go right along for the ride. It’s just been a great experience."

Jonathan Freeman (Jafar) on his time in Aladdin in an interview with Inside the Magic.

Sean Griffin (Sultan), Don Darryl Rivera (Iago) and Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), Photo by 5th Avenue

"I can’t believe it’s already been a year since Aladdin made its world premiere in Seattle! Aladdin for me will always have a special place in my heart (being a huuuge Disney nerd and it being one of my favorite films ever!) because so many wonderful memories were made during the course of putting the show together. One memory that stands out in particular was when the Sunshine Kids came to visit our show. The Sunshine Kids is an American non-profit organization dedicated to children with cancer. They provide positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer patients – of course, free of charge. The kids ranged from toddlers to teenagers and just the happiness they exuded from seeing our show and meeting us in costume moved me to tears. I was happy to see that they could get whisked away for 2 and a half hours to enjoy the magic of theatre and the magic of Aladdin. I still have the little Sunshine pin they gave me that night.

Thanks for letting me share this special memory from Aladdin!"

A creepy little thing,
Don Darryl Rivera (Iago)

"I feel like this production is a valentine to Howard from Alan. Of course, Alan has much here to showcase himself and Proud of Your Boy stops the show – it’s just a magnificent blend of words and music. In the days when Broadway (or whatever) shows created standards – this would be a standard for sure."

Sarah Ashman Gillespie in her review of Aladdin at Part of His World.

Sean Griffin as Sultan and Courtney Reed as Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka

"i dont know what is happening with the future of Aladdin...if by chance something does happen in the future i would love to be involved if they still want me...all is well here in seattle...i continue to work on some workshop projects of new plays, baby sit the grandkids and volunteer at a hospice for kids at risk...and of course memories of the Aladdin experience were and still are very happy ones...i had the greatest time working with all under casey nicholaw's direction...he is special...hadn't that much fun in a long time and got paid too...working at the 5th ave is always fun and since my wife bernie runs it that is just an extra added enjoyment...also working with all the Disney people was a joy...hope this finds you well and happy"

Sean Griffin (Sultan)

"Creating a new character in a well loved story means you always have to keep the story and tone of the world of the play in mind when making your choices. But otherwise, I found great creative freedom in adding depth to what was already written for Kassim. This sense of freedom to create was most definitely nurtured by the director- Casey Nicholaw and Chad Beguelin, the writer. They dared us to come up with new and funny material. It was also vital that the trio had chemistry. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. Brian Gonzales (Babkak) is one of the funniest and bravest actors I've ever worked with and Andrew Keenan Bolger (Omar) simply emits light and talent everywhere he goes. We became inseparable and relied heavily on one another. A great trust and love was developed over the weeks and we would back each other up with our crazy, stupid ideas. Some of them are permanently written into the script! "STREET RATS ON 3...""

Brandon O’Neill (Kassim) on creating new characters for a classic story.

Brian Gonzales (Babkak), James Monroe Iglehart (Genie), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Omar), Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Brandon O'Neill (Kassim), Photo by Chris Bennion

"The most rewarding part of working on the show was getting to create our roles with Brian and Brandon. Casey gave us the freedom during rehearsal to come up with a lot of our own bits and adlibs. The most challenging was the fact that a lot of it bombed. Getting the opportunity to fall on your face and know that no one was judging you was the best possible scenario. We ended up coming up with a lot of hilarious stuff. I already miss my boys and hope we get a chance to work together again."

Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Omar) on the most rewarding and challenging part of Aladdin.

"My favorite memory from Aladdin the Musical is the day of the sitzprobe. It's the first time everyone gets to hear the orchestra and the singers together for the first time. Since there were new orchestrations, everyone was excited to hear the score. The minute the orchestra began to play, I burst into tears. There was just something so moving about it. I know it was very special for Alan, too. He got to hear all of those wonderful songs that he and Howard wrote come to life again. The director, Casey Nicholaw, was about as tear soaked as I was by the time it was over. It was a really great day and one that I'll never forget.


Chad Beguelin (Lyricist and Book Writer)


  1. hey, I randomly found your blog while looking for some information on the Aladdin musical. I love the Disney musicals, have seen Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins and Lion King.
    I thought the Seattle run of Aladdin was a preview for the Broadway version, just like Little Mermaid was, but apparently the show stopped a while ago and is not scheduled to come to Broadway yet, was it just meant to be performed at Seattle ?

  2. Aladdin is going to be on broadway! :D

  3. There are actually talks of it coming to broadway

  4. Hi Mikael, glad you found us, hope you like the site!

    To answer your question - the Seattle run of Aladdin was intended as a "Pilot Production" to create a template that could be licensed out to regional theatres (like this year's productions at The Tuacahn and The Muny), professional and amateur groups. Disney were quite explicit at the time that it was NOT intended as a pre-Broadway preview run (like The Little Mermaid had in Denver).

    However, as David and Austin have pointed out (thanks guys!! Great news!!), last weekend Alan Menken himself said that Aladdin is now coming to Broadway. There's been no official confirmation from Disney Theatrical yet, so no idea when this would be (I'd guess the earliest would be spring 2013), but it's safe to say that this week a Broadway run is looking much more likely than it did last July.