Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Countdown to Broadway - Utah 2012

Two weeks ago I took a look back at 5th Avenue's Pilot Production of Aladdin: The New Stage Musical, today I continue the countdown to Broadway with a special look back at the Tuacahn's 2012 production of the show.

After the curtain fell for the final time at The 5th Avenue Theatre, Aladdin fans were left wondering "what happens next?"  We didn't have to wait too long for an answer, on 26th September 2011 it was announced that "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".

Following their successful productions of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid, Tuacahn was chosen by Disney Theatrical as one of only two regional theatres to present Aladdin in 2012.  It seemed at the time that Disney was sticking to their original plan, to use Aladdin as one of their licensable properties, but there were also hints that something bigger could be in the works.  In November Alan Menken tweeted that he was having meetings with Chad Beguelin and Casey Nicholaw to further develop the show.  Following the Pilot Production it seemed only natural that Alan Menken and Chad Beguelin would be involved in any tweaks and changes being made to the show's book ahead of its regional productions, but the continued involvement of Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw (both roles that would be fulfilled by someone else in the regional productions), combined with the fact that Disney had chosen just two theatres to present this "newly expanded and revised production" of the show instead of allowing a wide release, hinted that this could be the first step towards something bigger.

Tuacahn's production of Aladdin was to run in repertory with Hairspray (in summer) and Legally Blonde (in fall) from 1st June through 18th October 2012 with performances every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Tuacahn's Artistic Director Scott Anderson was announced as director (making this his third Disney show, having already directed Tuacahn's productions of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid) with a cast and creative team to be drawn from Utah, California and New York.

Then, like with the Pilot Production, things went quiet for the next few months as casting and all the behind the scenes work took place.

Set Production, Photo by Tuacahn

It was in April 2012 we got our next update as the Tuacahn's blog (which sadly seems to no longer exist) gave us our first look at early set production (by Scenic Designer Doug Ellis) and costume materials for the show (from Costume Designer Wilma Mickler).  But it was the description that came with them that caught most peoples eyes.  Aladdin was described as a "lavish large scale production" including "water screen animations, illusions, a flying carpet as well as 3D animation in segments of the show".  Water screen animations and 3D segments?  I can't speak for anyone else, but those were certainly two things I never expected to see in a live theatre production (at least outside of the Magic Kingdom).  It certainly sounded like the team at Tuacahn were going all out to make the show special, the only question was could they make it work?

April ended with the announcement of the principle cast (which I covered in more depth here, here and here);

Dan Domenech as Aladdin

Haley Carlucci as Princess Jasmine

Edward Juvier as Genie

Michael G. Hawkins as Jafar

Jeff Asch as Iago

Paul Vogt as Babkak

Randy Aaron as Omar

Todd DuBail as Kassim

Bob Walton as Sultan

Before the end of May Aladdin was breaking Tuacahn sales records and they'd released a short teaser for their summer season featuring a short clip of Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci singing "A Whole New World" and the cast of Hairspray singing "You Can's Stop the Beat".

And then came the first picture of the cast, featuring Todd DuBail, Randy Aaron and Paul Vogt as Kassim, Omar and Babkak, and three live camels!!  It's interesting to see how the costumes changed between this initial picture and the final costumes featured on the character banners earlier in this post.  There's only a few changes but they serve to make the costumes much more vibrant and colourful.  And I can't tell you how excited the live camels made me!  That may sound strange but it's something that could never be done in a normal theatre.  Seeing them made me realise I was in for a theatre experience unlike any I'd had before.

Todd DuBail as Kassim, Randy Aaron as Omar and Paul Vogt as Babkak, Photo by Tuacahn

And then it was June.  The run up to the Tuacahn's production seemed much shorter than the build up to 5th Avenue's production and their preview run certainly was.  The show had its first performance on Monday 4th June and its official opening night on Friday 8th June.  That week The Las Vegas Review interviewed Dan Domenech about playing Aladdin and the Tuacahn very kindly provided me with what is probably my favourite promotional image from the show;

Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Tuacahn

The show's official opening marked the beginning of what is, to date, the largest media release of any production of Aladdin.  Whilst they didn't release any production videos, over the next few months Tuacahn released more promotional and production images than I could post!  That Friday both Playbill and Broadway World posted articles on the show, providing details on the full cast and creative team along with new promotional images of Dan Domenech, Haley Carlucci, Edward Juvier and Michael G. Hawkins as Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie and Jafar respectively, and the following week the Tuacahn released the character banners pictured above to their Facebook album.  In the weeks that followed The Salt Lake Tribune ran a feature on the show's 3D effects by former Disney Imagineer Geoff Puckett (and included a gallery of production images) and, of course, the end of June also saw Tuacahn releasing their commercial on YouTube;

In July Broadway World, Playbill and Tuacahn's own Facebook page posted image galleries for the show, but one of the biggest highlights had to be St. George's 4th July Parade which featured a special Aladdin float that year (more photos here)!

Samuel Warburton and Haley Carlucci as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Tuacahn

The final media release came in August as KSL News confirmed that the show had been breaking Tuacahn records all summer and went back stage to interview Dan Domenech (Aladdin), Haley Carlucci (Jasmine), Edward Juvier (Genie) and Director Scott Anderson.  It's a fantastic video that includes some footage from the show and is well worth checking out!

Whilst the 5th Avenue's Pilot Production may have received mixed reviews, Tuacahn's reviews were incredibly favourable, with The Salt Lake City Tribune saying "Aladdin flies high" with "strong comic acting, onstage chemistry and a live orchestra help ground a stage show packed with special effects", Deseret News saying "with great direction, impressive special effects and playful humor, audiences of all ages will perceive "Disney's Aladdin" as an enjoyable classic worth viewing again", and The Spectrum calling it "an experience that will not disappoint".

Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Tuacahn

My own review of the show can be found here.  Needless to say, I loved the show.  As I said in the review, "A year ago I had never heard of the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in southern Utah, now I can't wait to go back."  The Tuacahn is a theatre experience unlike any other and its beautiful desert backdrop was perfect for Aladdin.  Scott Anderson made full use of his outdoor venue with live camels (and a small menagerie of other animals), fireworks and a fantastic water screen projection of the Cave of Wonders.

Dan Domenech as Aladdin, Photo by Tuacahn

The 3D effects were well integrated and worked well in the Cave of Wonders/"Friend Like Me" sequence, but the most magical effect of the show was reserved for "A Whole New World" as "Aladdin and Jasmine take flight on a magic carpet that takes them up and over the audience as they sing.  It was a truly magical moment and one I will never forget, especially as the audience spontaneously burst into applause as the carpet took flight".

I won't repeat my whole review here, suffice it to say that the cast were all incredible and the show was fast paced and funny (with Edward Juvier's Genie often stealing the show whenever he was on stage) but still retained the heart of the animated classic thanks largely to the performances of Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci as Aladdin and Jasmine.  It perfectly balanced the movie I knew with the cut material I'd longed to hear brought to life, combining two visions of Aladdin into one fantastic reality and for that Chad Beguelin has my thanks.

Dan Domenech as Aladdin and Edward Juvier as Genie, Photo by Tuacahn

Towards the end of the show's run I looked back on my time in Utah and did a very in depth look at the show in Aladdin: The Tuacahn Experience

Part 1 - Before the Performance
Part 2 - It's Showtime!

Looking back now there's a few errors in my run through of the show (serves me right for writing it so long after I saw it I guess) but it covers everything.  Seriously, if you're planning to see the show on Broadway and don't want spoilers then don't read Part 2!

Michael G. Hawkins as Jafar and Jeff Asch as Iago, Photo by Tuacahn

The show ended its run in October having broken Tuacahn sales records and setting the record for the longest running production of Aladdin.  That record will be broken this year as the show takes to the Broadway stage, but for now it still belongs to the Tuacahn.  As the show came to a close, several of the cast very kindly wrote some short reflections on their time in Aladdin for this blog.  I think Jeff Asch summed it up very aptly when he said "I remember being young and how it felt to see theatre... I can't imagine, though, what it must be like to see something of this magnitude as a kid, or an adult for that matter.  6 months of the same show can get old very fast, but I can honestly say this "high adventure" never got stale... lots and lots of love to all"

For my part this will always be my first Aladdin.  I can't wait to see the show on Broadway (believe me, I'm literally counting the days now) and I'm expecting it to be every bit as magical in its own way, but I will never forget the live camels, the shimmering mirage of the Cave of Wonders, the hairs standing up on my neck and the tears in my eyes as Aladdin and Jasmine flew off the stage and over my head, and the beautiful red rock backdrop of the Tuacahn.

Once again, I would like to say a big thank you to Heidi Anderson, Scott Anderson, the cast of Aladdin and everyone at the Tuacahn for making Jane and I feel so welcome and making our holiday extra special.  I promise, one day we will come again!

Dan Domenech and Haley Carlucci as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Tuacahn

This year Tuacahn be producing another Disney show.  In 2011 The Little Mermaid broke Tuacahn records and hopefully it will do the same again this summer when they present their new production of the show!  Tickets are available here.  If you're in the area then you owe it to yourself to go.  I saw both Aladdin and Hairspray during my time in Utah and both were fantastic.  Last time they did The Little Mermaid they literally flooded the stage.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

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