Next month will see Aladdin finally debut on a Broadway stage. It's a moment that's been a very long time coming and, with the preview run now behind us, I thought that now would be a good time to pause and look back at the road has led us here. Today is a very apt day for this as it was on this day, 13th January, 3 years ago that The 5th Avenue Theatre released a press release that would announce the start of Aladdin's long journey to the Broadway stage. There had been rumours and "talk" of Aladdin being done for stage for years, even workshops in 2010, but 13th January 2011 was when Aladdin became very real with the following words;
Aladdin will feature a cast and creative team drawn from Seattle and Broadway. Several 5th Avenue veterans return for the production, including acclaimed director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who received his first professional choreography gig at The 5th Avenue Theatre (The Prince and the Pauper, 2001) and where he later choreographed My Fair Lady (2002). On Broadway, Nicholaw won praise as the choreographer of Spamalot, and director/choreographer of The Drowsy Chaperone and Elf: The Broadway Musical, garnering three Tony nominations for his work.
This new Aladdin 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.
Other confirmed production artists include set designer Anna Louizos (White Christmas, In The Heights), Tony Award®-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes (The Drowsy Chaperone, Mame at The 5th Avenue), Tony® winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (Beauty and the Beast, Aida), dance arranger Glen Kelly (The Producers, Drowsy Chaperone) and musical supervisor Michael Kosarin (Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act).
Steve Fickinger, VP Creative Development and Licensing for Disney Theatrical Productions, said, “Responding to extraordinary demand from our licensing customers for a full length, two- act version of Aladdin, Alan Menken brought to us the idea of returning to the highly theatrical vision he and Howard Ashman had originally conceived but that had proved unsuitable for the film. Our goal with this pilot production of Aladdin at The 5th Avenue is to launch this title for inclusion in our innovative professional and regional theatre licensing catalog.”
Adam Jacobs as Aladdin
Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine
James Monroe Iglehart as Genie
Jonathan Freeman as Jafar
Don Darryl Rivera as Iago
Brian Gonzales as Babkak
Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Omar
Brandon O'Neill as Kassim
Sean G. Griffin as Sultan
The casting announcement was the start of two things. For me it was the day I reached out to Adam Jacobs, asking if he'd be willing to do an interview for this blog, and to Disney, asking if they'd be willing to send me any press materials for the show. In less than 24 hours Adam had said yes and Disney had put me in touch with the wonderful Bridget Summers at The 5th Avenue. I can't say enough about how amazing Bridget was, without her help and support I wouldn't have been able to do half the things I did back in 2011 and it's very likely I wouldn't still be doing this today. She made me feel part of it even though I was half the world away. The second thing was the beginning of an incredible media blitz. With the casting came the first official photo of Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and from then on it felt like the media campaign was in overdrive.
|Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Mark Kitaoka|
Throughout June and early July more preview images surfaced online, featuring Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine;
|Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Mark Kitaoka|
|Courtney Reed as Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka|
And my personal favourite;
|Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Mark Kitaoka|
As the pictures came, so did the press interviews. In the build up to the show's opening and throughout its 3 week run the cast and creative team appeared on TV, on radio and online to promote the show;
Courtney Reed appeared on King 5 talking about the show and performing Call Me a Princess
Writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin spoke with Broadway World about bringing the movie to the stage
Sean Griffin spoke with Q13 Arts Around about playing the Sultan
Brandon O'Neill and Don Darryl Rivera appeared on the John Curley Show
The Seattle Times ran a preview article about the show and then a video interview with James Monroe Iglehart
Hunk du Jour interviewed Adam Jacobs
Q13 did a set visit the morning before the show opened (though sadly the video no longer appears to be online)
Seattle Weekly spoke with Jonathan Freeman about bringing Jafar to life again
Theater Mania interviewed Casey Nicholaw
After the show opened King 5 featured video interviews with Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed and James Monroe Iglehart along with footage from the show
Talkin' Broadway interviewed Alan Menken
Seattle Weekly spoke with Paul Hansen about his percussion work for the show
Don Darryl Rivera guides Playbill through a 2 show day with some fantastic behind the scenes photos and witty captions (seriously if you only check out one of these links then make it this one, it's a fun read and offers some of the best views of the costumes, including Jonathan Freeman as Jafar).
Even after the show finished the media kept coming as Jonathan Freeman spoke with InsideTheMagic (and this video has the only stage photo of Jonathan as Jafar I've ever seen, as far as I'm aware it never received a wide released anywhere) and Adam Jacobs spoke with Stage Rush about playing Aladdin.
Not to be outdone, The 5th Avenue released a behind the scenes rehearsal video featuring short interviews with several of the cast and then came The JMI Show. Words cannot describe how much I love JMI's interviews. One of my most enduring memories of the 2011 Pilot Production of Aladdin is the theme tune to The JMI Show! For those that don't know, The JMI Show is James' YouTube show where he interviews fellow cast and crew. As well as a natural born entertainer, James is a gifted interviewer and really funny dude. Throughout July The 5th Avenue released new editions of The JMI Show where James interviewed Casey Nicholaw, Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed, Jonathan Freeman and Don Darryl Rivera, and finally Aladdin's trio of friends and narrators, Brandon O'Neill, Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Brian Gonzales. By the end of July 2011 I knew the JMI theme tune as well as I did any of the songs from Aladdin. Watch them and enjoy, you will not be disappointed!
Looking back it's funny to think how myself and other fans thought they weren't releasing enough! Compared with the releases for the recent Toronto run, The 5th Avenue released an incredible amount of information and media. I think our desperation for more was driven, at least in part, by the belief that this was it. This 3 week run was our only chance to see or hear any of this stuff, so we craved it. Now, with the show coming to Broadway, that desperation is gone, we don't need to have it all now because we know it's all coming. But it sure made those two summer months an incredibly intense and exciting time for Aladdin fans and an experience I'll never forget.
The show finally opened on 7th July 2011. Audiences loved it from the first preview and it took less than a day for the song list to hit the net.
Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim
One Jump Ahead
One Jump Ahead, Reprise
Proud of Your Boy
Arabian Nights, Reprise 1
Call Me a Princess
Call Me a Princess, Reprise
A Million Miles Away
Arabian Nights, Reprise 2
Friend Like Me
Arabian Nights, Reprise 3
Act 1 Finale (Friend Like Me, Reprise and Proud of Your Boy, Reprise)
A Whole New World
Somebody's Got Your Back
Wedding Day Suite (said to be a bit of everything and an extended Prince Ali, Reprise)
Finale Ultimo (Somebody's Got Your Back, Reprise, Arabian Nights, Reprise 4, A Whole New World, Reprise)
But, like with Toronto, the final song list would end up looking a little different. Two days after opening the Wedding Day Suite was gone, replaced by the regular Prince Ali, Reprise (though High Adventure, Reprise was added soon after), and Finale Ultimo was being trimmed.
It also wasn't long before the show received two very special visitors. Aladdin's writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker! The photos, posted by 5th Avenue, also offered fans their first real chance to see all the cast in costume.
|Ron and John with the cast of Aladdin, Photo by The 5th Avenue|
And hot on the heals of that came the official pictures;
|Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Chris Bennion|
|Adam Jacobs and James Monroe Iglehart as Aladdin and Genie, Photo by Chris Bennion|
|James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Chris Bennion|
|James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Sean G. Griffin as Sultan and Ensemble, Photo by Chris Bennion|
|Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Chris Bennion|
|From left to right; Brian Gonzales as Babkak, James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Omar, Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and Brandon O'Neill as Kassim. Photo by Chris Bennion|
|Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Courtney Reed as Jasmine, Sean G. Griffin as Sultan and Ensemble, Photo by Chris Bennion|
And the first video, offering a preview of the new Menken/Beguelin duet A Million Miles Away;
Sadly this was the only full clip released by The 5th Avenue, but in under 2 minutes it made me fall in love with the show all over again. At that point I'd have given almost anything to have been in Seattle watching the show.
On 21st July 2011 the show officially opened. The reviews, whilst mixed, were relatively positive overall with the professional critics being more, well, critical and the more personal reviews being much more positive. My response to the reviews can found here. It's also encouraging to note that many of the issues raised by the critics in Seattle were addressed for the recent Toronto run. The most divisive issue in Seattle was the staging of A Whole New World, but in Toronto almost everyone agreed that that scene is now one of the standouts of the show.
But sadly all good things must come to an end. Ten days after it's official opening Aladdin: The New Stage Musical came to a close, with the audience sending it on it's way in fine style, clapping along with Friend Like Me and bringing down the house one last time. On Twitter, 5th Avenue said it best, "Closing night is always so bittersweet. Congratulations again to everybody on a fantastic run!"
Of course my personal favourite memory of Seattle is getting to interview most of the principal cast. When I first emailed Adam Jacobs I barely dared to imagine that he'd even reply, but he very graciously accepted and that, for me, was the moment that this blog became something very special. Encouraged, I reached out to Courtney Reed and James Monroe Iglehart and was honoured when they both accepted as well. Then, with the tremendous help and support of Bridget Summers at 5th Avenue, I was able to arrange interviews with Don Darryl Rivera, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Sean Griffin and Brandon O'Neill. To say it was a dream come true is an understatement. It was an honour and a privilege, but above all it was an absolute pleasure. And I just want to say a big thank you once again to them all for taking the time to do this for me and for the fans of the show who read this blog. I owe you all a debt of gratitude and thanks that I can never repay.
One year later many of the cast, along with writer/lyricist Chad Beguelin, once again very kindly gave up their time to offer me their reflections on Aladdin for the show's anniversary. I think that also offers the perfect place to end this look back at The 5th Avenue's Pilot Production, so I'm going to leave you now with the words of Alan Menken. He's talking about the opening night of the show but I think this tweet also perfectly captures the entire of the Seattle run;
"First preview of ALADDIN last night. Soooo much fun! Everyone is so happy. Howard lives again thanks to Casey, Chad and the whole team..." - Alan Menken (@AIMenken)