Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Countdown to Broadway - Toronto 2013/2014


It was August 2012, following the successful Pilot Production at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in 2011 Disney had been true to their word and had licensed Aladdin to both regional and international theatres.  The Tuacahn's production was half way through its record breaking 5 month run, The Muny's production had just finished the previous month (becoming the best selling show of the season) and European and Asian Premieres had been announced for later in the year.  Then, on Sunday 12th August, Alan Menken played to an intimate audience at a special D23 Destination D event.  At the close of the show, introducing Somebody's Got Your Back Alan says "you're going to be now among the very first to hear a song, a new song, from the Aladdin show that's coming to Broadway."

Thanks to Stitch Kingdom (and James who recorded it) you can hear the announcement, and Alan singing Somebody's Got Your Back and Proud of Your Boy, here;



It would be January 2013 before the official announcement came.  On January 7th  The New York Times ran a rumour that Mary Poppins, which had been running on Broadway since 2006, was to close in March to make way for Aladdin which would make its Broadway debut in Spring 2014 with the New Amsterdam being renovated between the two shows.  The very next day Disney confirmed that Mary Poppins would indeed close on 3rd March 2013 and on 22nd January it was officially confirmed, Aladdin was going to Broadway!  Following a preview run in Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre from 1st November 2013 through 5th January 2014, Aladdin was to make its Broadway Premiere at the New Amsterdam Theatre in Spring 2014.

It was reported that this would be an entirely new production of Aladdin "featuring a new script, tunestack and a wholly original design scaled to the Broadway stage and an epic story" and that most of the original creative team from 5th Avenue's Pilot Production would be returning along with a few new additions;

Alan Menken (Composer)
Howard Ashman (Lyrics)
Tim Rice (Lyrics)
Chad Beguelin (Book and Lyrics)
Casey Nicholaw (Director and Choreographer)
Bob Crowley (Scenic Design)
Gregg Barnes (Costume Design)
Natasha Katz (Lighting Design)
Ken Travis (Sound Design)
Jim Steinmeyer (Illusion Design)
Josh Marquette (Hair Design)
Michael Kosarin (Music Supervisor/Music Director)
Danny Troob (Orchestrator)
Glen Kelly (Dance Arrangements)

At the same time the show's official website (then www.aladdinbroadway.com) went live, along with Facebook and Twitter accounts, debuting the show's new tagline Aladdin: Broadway's New Musical Fantasy, and the following week the casting calls went out for both principals and chorus singers and dancers.  Jafar's absence from the casting calls was our first hint that Jonathan Freeman would once again be bringing the character to life on stage, but the absence of Iago and Kassim was, at the time, a little more confusing.  Happily the roles would both go to original cast members Don Darryl Rivera and Brandon O'Neill, but that's getting a bit ahead of myself!


February saw the Mirvish Theatre launch their webpage for Aladdin: The New Musical Fantasy with the above poster and the banner used at the top of this post and, in an interview with Playbill, Alan Menken revealed that he and Chad Beguelin had written a new song for Jafar (which we now know to be Diamond in the Rough).

Priority tickets for the Toronto run of Aladdin finally went on sale at the end of May with general sales starting early the following month.  As well as general ticket sales, June also saw the release of the teaser trailer for the Toronto run;



In August another D23 event offered fans a small sneak preview of the show.  As part of the D23 Expo a special Broadway and Beyond concert was held to showcase the music of Disney Theatrical's shows both past and present, the night ended with a special look to the future as the cast performed the new song Somebody's Got Your Back from Aladdin.  Though the event was no cameras allowed footage did hit the net.  Out of respect for Disney I didn't post the video here but I did post this image from the footage, our first look at the new and improved Broadway logo for the show;


The Toronto production would continue to use the earlier logo and the tagline "The New Musical Fantasy" or, simply, "The New Musical" but from here on the Broadway production would be "The New Musical Comdey" or "Broadway's New Musical Comedy".

Before the month was over the Aladdin marquee was raised at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.


And on 29th August 2013 the official website received a makeover featuring the new logo and artwork as it was announced that Aladdin: The New Musical Comedy would begin its Broadway previews on 26th February 2014 with the official opening night expected to be 20th March 2014.


Casting rumours grew stronger in September as the show prepared to begin rehearsals.  Whilst there were plenty of rumours going round two really stood out and both ended up being true.  The first was that Adam Jacobs, who originated the role of Aladdin in Seattle, would be returning to the title role.  A press release for Scott Siegel's Broadway Ballyhoo! credited Adam as "the star in the title role of the new Disney musical Aladdin".  The second was that Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who originated the role of Omar in Seattle, would not be returning.  This was based on Andrew being confirmed as part of the cast of the Off Broadway play Family Fortunes which was to run at the same time as Aladdin's Toronto run.

The announcement we were all waiting for came on 16th September 2013 as the cast began rehearsals and Disney finally revealed who would be starring in Broadway's Aladdin;

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
Jonathan Schwartz as Omar
Brandon O'Neill as Kassim
Clifton Davis as Sultan

Merwin Foard and Michael James Scott were announced as standbys for several principals and the ensemble was confirmed to include Tia Altinay, Mike Cannon, Andrew Cao, Lauryn Ciardullo, Joshua Dela Cruz, Yurel Echezarreta, Daisy Hobbs, Donald Jones Jr., Adam Kaokept, Nikki Long, Stanley Martin, Brandt Martinez , Michael Mindlin, Rhea Patterson, Bobby Pestka, Khori Petinaud, Ariel Reid, Jennifer Rais, Trent Saunders, Jaz Sealy, Dennis Stowe, Marisha Wallace and Bud Weber.

For me, the best part of the announcement was the return of so many of the original Seattle principal cast.  As the original cast I felt they deserved to have the chance to bring the show to Broadway and, having missed the original production of the show, I can't wait to finally see them in these roles on the Broadway stage.

Following a month of rehearsals in New York the cast and creative team packed their bags and jumped on the magic carpet to their new home in Toronto, the Ed Mirvish Theatre.  The move to Toronto marked the beginning of the publicity build up for the show as 680 News interviewed Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed about the show and Mirvish Productions posted a special look behind the scenes;



As the World Premiere of this new, Broadway bound, production of Aladdin grew closer the press coverage increased.  The Toronto Star went behind the scenes, talking with Thomas Schumacher, Casey Nicholaw, Chad Beguelin and James Monroe Iglehart, The Canadian Press spoke with Alan Menken (though sadly the video seems to no longer be online) and both The Winnipeg Free News and CBC News interviewed Canadian native Jaz Sealey about his role in the show.

Then it was show time.  Friday 1st November 2013 saw the curtain rise for the first time on Aladdin.  The show opened to standing ovations and, whilst there were one or two minor technical issues, audience reactions were overwhelmingly positive (and those early technical problems were dealt with extremely quickly and haven't been an issue since).

In less than a week the new, revised, song list hit the net (which is actually a pretty long time given that it took less than a day for the Seattle list to come online) and featured some noticeable differences to the earlier productions of the show;

Act One
Arabian Nights
One Jump Ahead
Proud of Your Boy (with One Jump Ahead, Reprise used as a lead in)
Arabian Nights, Reprise 1
Call Me a Princess
Call Me a Princess, Reprise
Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim
A Million Miles Away
Diamond in the Rough
Friend Like Me
Arabian Nights, Reprise 2
Act 1 Finale (Friend Like Me, Reprise and Proud of Your Boy, Reprise 1)

Act Two
Prince Ali
Arabian Nights, Reprise 3
A Whole New World
High Adventure
Somebody's Got Your Back
Proud of Your Boy, Reprise 2
Prince Ali, Reprise
Genie's Exit (Somebody's Got Your Back, Reprise)
Finale Ultimo (Arabian Nights, Reprise 4 and A Whole New World, Reprise)

As the cast and creative team were entertaining audiences in Toronto and gearing up for their official opening night, Disney began to email those who had signed up to the show's official website a special priority code to allow them first access to tickets for Aladdin on Broadway.  Aladdin's Broadway debut was finally on sale!  It was a good week to be an Aladdin fan as that same week also saw the release of the first official production photos from Aladdin's Toronto run.

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine with Brandt Martinez, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

And once again I'd like to say a big thank you to Disney Theatrical for providing me with high quality versions of the photos.

That week in November also showed the humanitarian side of one of the cast as, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, Don Darryl Rivera dedicated his performance of Iago to those affected by the tragedy and encouraged his friends and supporters to consider donating to UNICEF's efforts to help those affected.

On 21st November 2013 Aladdin: The New Musical Fantasy officially opened in Toronto.  Whilst audience responses were extremely positive, as with Seattle the critics were mixed in their opinions.  The Star gave the show 2 1/2 stars (presumably out of 5) praising James Monroe Iglehart's Genie and the show stopping Friend Like Me but criticising the show's book, saying it didn't make you care for the characters in the way you should.  The Globe and Mail agreed, giving the show 2 1/2 out of 4 stars, praising the set design and the magic carpet but saying the show lacked charm and heart.  The Toronto Sun's review had the same criticisms, saying that it was hard to emotionally invest in the characters, whilst the Huffington Post called James Monroe Iglehart "ten kinds of fabulous, each with its own theme song" but felt that Jasmine's character lacked depth and, like the other reviews, felt that rewriting was needed to make the show stronger.  The Vancouver Sun felt that the show might appeal more to children than to adults, but conceded that "it's hard to argue with simple, straightforward fun"Broadway World's review was more positive, though it echoed the earlier concerns about the book not making you care enough for the characters it went on to say that "problems aside, there's still a lot of magic in Aladdin", praising the cast and calling the A Whole New World scene "a moment of theatrical magic combined with a stunningly beautiful song ... it served as a beautiful reminder of why people love Aladdin and why they will go to the theatre in droves to see it come to life before their very eyes."  The Post's review was similarly positive, praising James Monroe Iglehart's Genie and Don Darryl Rivera's Iago and calling Friend Like Me "almost worth the price of admission alone" but agreed with the Huffington Post that Courtney Reed's Jasmine was limited by the book and felt that this was a missed opportunity.  The National Post's review was positively glowing with praise, declaring "Forget the Lion, this Aladdin is King of the Stage" and calling it "the best ever stage version of a movie".  The reviewer praised almost every element of the show saying "what a joy to encounter a big, splashy, funny musical that works".

Following the official opening of the show The Star published a touching interview with Alan Menken, discussing his life and bringing Aladdin to stage, CHCH posted a video interview with the stars of the show, Canada's CTV News posted a video interview with James Monroe Iglehart (Jonathan Freeman's there too but this was definitely the JMI Show!) and Broadway Direct posted interviews with both Jonathan Freeman and Casey NicholawNY1 also posted a short article on the show's opening along with a video for Warner Cable customers and at the end of December Inlander interviewed Brandon O'Neill.

In the wake of the reviews the creative team went back to work.  In the past Disney have been criticised for not making anything more than superficial changes to their shows between the out of town previews and their Broadway debut, this certainly can't be said for Aladdin as the creative team have taken every opportunity to listen to feedback and improve the show.  The staging of A Whole New World was one of the most divisive issues with critics back in 2011, for this new production it was almost universally praised as one of the stand outs of the show.  Less than a month after the reviews Call Me a Princess and Call Me a Princess Reprise were cut and replaced with a new song called Beyond These Palace Walls to give Jasmine a more character driven song in the vein of Aladdin's Proud of Your Boy.  The changes didn't stop there as reports came out from people seeing the show that several changes, big and small, were being made in the final months of the Toronto run.  One thing seemed unanimous however, everyone who saw the show multiple times in Toronto agreed that the changes made the show stronger and Aladdin ended its Toronto run better for them.  And more changes are still to come as Director Casey Nicholaw confirmed in this interview with Broadway World last week.

As the cold Canadian winter closed in the cast got an early Christmas surprise - Scott Weinger, the original voice of Aladdin, came to see the show and meet the cast backstage.  And Disney had an early Christmas present for the fans as well, releasing a teaser trailer for Aladdin's upcoming Broadway run.



On 5th January 2014 Aladdin played its final show at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto and the final countdown to Broadway began as Disney raised the marquee at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York.


Our final look at the Toronto run of Aladdin came earlier this month from Disney's official fan site, D23.  As part of an article about the show's impending Broadway debut D23 shared some previously unseen production images from Toronto, including our first look at Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz and Brandon O'Neill as Babkak, Omar and Kassim, Don Darryl Rivera as Iago and the one and only Jonathan Freeman as Jafar!  The website is members only but you can sign up for free, you don't need to be a silver or gold member to view the article.

Now, the countdown to Broadway is finally over.  It's been a long journey from those early workshops in 2010 to The 5th Avenue's Pilot Production in 2011 to where we are right now.  Tomorrow night the curtain at the New Amsterdam Theatre will rise, the orchestra will begin to play and the story of Aladdin will come to life on a Broadway stage.  Perhaps you would like to hear the tale?  It begins on a dark night...

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