Sunday, 30 November 2014

What Are You Thankful For?

I hope that all of my American readers have had a happy Thanksgiving weekend.  Whilst the holiday of Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here in the UK there is something that I've been meaning to post on this blog for a while now and this weekend feels like a very appropriate time to share it.

When we visited New York earlier this year Jane and I were not only fortunate enough to see Aladdin in it's opening week on Broadway, we were also blessed with the chance to meet many of the cast who bring this amazing show to life every night.

It was Wednesday 19th March and we'd just seen the incredible final preview performance of the show.  It was everything I'd dream it would be and, somehow, even managed to beat my insanely high expectations.  After the show we rushed to the stage door to do what all theatre lovers do - meet the cast and say thank you for an amazing experience (and in my case say thank you for all the support they'd given me over the last 3 years).

If I'm remembering correctly it had been a relatively sunny day, cold certainly but clear.  Whilst we were in the New Amsterdam Theatre the heavens had opened.  It was absolutely pouring down.  As we waited for the cast to come out I heard a lady behind me call my name.  To my absolute surprise and delight it was Tipawan Reed.  Tipawan has been, and continues to be, the biggest supporter of this blog and her words of kindness and encouragement have meant the world to me.  We'd spoken briefly but never met before, Tipawan had come out looking for us and recognised my English accent.  I introduced her to Jane and she introduced us to her husband Porter.

Standing in the crowd at stage door we got chance to meet Adam Jacobs and Brandon O'Neill who, despite the weather, ensured they spent time meeting everyone and signing Playbills.  I'm certain that the rest of the cast did the same but we didn't get chance to meet them that night.  As the rain continued to pour Tipawan very kindly offered to take us inside to meet Courtney!

As we went back stage I felt like I was in a dream.  As we exited the lift on Courtney's floor she was already in the corridor speaking with another woman.  When Courtney turned to face us she had a slightly star struck look - the woman she'd just been talking with was none other than the original Princess Jasmine - Linda Larkin!!

We then went back to her dressing room (painted pink, perfectly suited to a Disney princess, and filled with Jasmines) and got to spend a few minutes talking with Courtney and her parents.  It was a surreal and amazing experience.  I had never been back stage at a show, never mind on Broadway, and suddenly here we were standing in Jasmine's dressing room!  Courtney was lovely, if you've ever been lucky enough to meet her at stage door then you'll know just how friendly and welcoming she is.

We said our thank yous and our goodbyes.  As we left Courtney went out to brave the rain and meet the fans at stage door.

It was an amazing end to an incredible night.  Jane and I were both on cloud nine.

When we got back to the hotel I turned on the iPad to message Don Darryl Rivera to apologise for missing him at stage door.  I was greeted by messages from Don, James Monroe Iglehart and Khori Petinaud asking if they'd missed me and if I was coming back!  It was an overwhelming moment and I still continue to be surprised and humbled by the level of support that this amazing cast has shown me.  Now, I didn't fly halfway around the world to see a show and only book one set of tickets (yeah Broadway is expensive but flights cost even more and at this point I had no idea when I'd be going back) so I happily replied that we were coming to see the show again on Saturday and couldn't wait to meet them all!

The next day was Opening Night!  Now, I've already covered Aladdin's Purple Carpet event in a earlier post but as we were watching them set up something incredible happened.  James Monroe Iglehart decided to use the front door.  Coming up to the barrier that had been erected and jokingly asking who'd blocked the way into work.  As he passed I took the opportunity to introduce myself and was again humbled as he thanked me for doing the blog and my support.  And then he invited us back stage on Saturday.  Jane said she wished she'd had a camera out as my face was apparently a hilarious mix of shock and joy.  I hope I wasn't so shocked that I at least managed to get out a "thank you"!

The next morning was one of my favourite moments of our holiday as we shared breakfast with Tipawan and Porter Reed.  Tipawan and Porter are two of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and it was an absolute joy to spend time with them.  Yes, we spoke about the show's opening night but we also spoke about family, holidays and life in general.  In many ways it felt like a meal between old friends even though we'd never met.

The rest of Friday and Saturday passed in the same blur most holidays seem to.  Then it was Saturday night and we were seeing Aladdin again and the second time seemed even better than the first.  I think it my head I was subconsciously noting all the changes the first time I saw the show (despite trying really hard not to) and the second time I was able to fully appreciate it without thinking about everything that had come before (if you want to know how much I loved it you can read my review here).

After the show everything went into that surreal dream world again.  Knocking on the stage door and saying I was there to see James Monroe Iglehart was an electrifying moment (and strangely a little nerve wracking too).  Then Jane and I, along with other guests, were taken through the stage door and onto the stage!

Confession time - I may have started singing "Proud of Your Boy" quietly to myself as I stood on the stage.  May have... ;)

After missing him a few nights earlier I finally got to meet Don Darryl Rivera.

Don has been a friend to me and we've kept in touch ever since I got the chance to interview him for the Seattle production so finally getting to meet him was the highlight of our back stage adventure.  He's also one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet.  I'd told Brandon O'Neill I'd hopefully see him this evening but he was entertaining guests.  Don thought he'd seen him and even popped his head out of stage door trying to find him for me.  He came back in laughing that the crowd had playfully booed him when he'd come back inside!

We got to see Courtney again and Adam Jacobs (in dryer conditions this time) so it was nice to be able to properly speak with him for a moment and thank him for everything he'd done for me.

I also had the chance to meet Jonathan Schwartz briefly.  He seemed like a great guy and I hope that one day I'll get the chance to interview him for this blog.

Then we got the chance to spend a few minutes with the man who'd made this possible -  James Monroe Iglehart.  I know I've said this about everyone but JMI is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet.  Warmth just seems to radiate from him.  He introduced us to his wife Dawn and she took our picture.  Then something happened that just made us all burst out laughing;

Don Darryl Rivera - Photobomb King!

We got more pictures with JMI, one where we're all still laughing and one where we actually managed to take a normal photo but this one is my favourite.

Then came the best part of the night.  Don took us on personal back stage tour!  We learnt some amazing things, like the lamps are actually 3D printed and there are hidden Mickey's in the Cave of Wonder's jewels.  But in case you were wondering the flying carpet is pure Disney magic!

These are memories that we will treasure forever and I can never say thank you enough.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Make a New Years Wish with Aladdin

Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed and James Monroe Iglehart as Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie

What are you doing New Years Eve?

Every year an estimated one million people fill New York's Times Square to watch the famous ball drop followed by (literally) a ton of confetti.  What you may not know is that on those pieces of confetti are New Years wishes from people all over the world.

This year Broadway's Aladdin is sponsoring New Year's Eve Wishes and you can add your wish to the confetti right here!

So, "What would you wish for?"

Monday, 17 November 2014

Broadway News Round Up 24

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Welcome to another weekly news round up for Broadway's Aladdin!

The biggest event this week was the live AMA with Adam Jacobs, James Monroe Iglehart and Jonathan Freeman!  The Q&A with the stars was a lot a fun and revealed several behind the scenes tidbits along with plenty of hilarious stories!  The official Disney Blog has the highlights or you can read the full Q&A over at Reddit.  I'd definitely recommend reading the full thing!

Aladdin's book writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin and Disney Theatrical's Thomas Schumacher made the OUT100 2014 List this week, where the year's most compelling people pay homage to pivotal moments in LGBT history.  The article links 2 moments - the November 25th 1992 premiere of Aladdin in cinemas and the 26th February 2014 debut of Aladdin on Broadway.  The short piece also contains a very thought provoking comment by Chad Beguelin that gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of Proud of Your Boy.  I've read before that Beauty and the Beast's Mob Song is speaking about AIDS (which Howard was tragically dying of when he wrote the song), but I'd never considered the added level to Proud of Your Boy that would come from being gay.  Howard Ashman's talent is nothing short of incredible.  To be able to write songs that not only drive the narrative forward and perfectly fit the characters they are written for but at the same time to reflect his own life, his own feelings and emotions, is simply astounding.

Do you remember's Justin "Squigs" Robertson's portrait done in honour of the show's opening night?  If not here's a quick reminder;

You like it?  Well now you can officially get the T-Shirt!  You can pick yours up either in person at the New Amsterdam Theatre or at Aladdin's online store!

And on the subject of, CONGRATULATIONS to James Monroe Iglehart who came 4th in's "10 Must-See Performances on Broadway Right Now"!

Broadway World is reporting that Aladdin's Yurel Echezeretta took part in the Sueno Pop: Pulso Latino concert last weekend.  The event celebrated Latin pop music and featured a host of stars from both Broadway and TV.

Gavin Doyle of DisneyDose posted a special story on Inside the Magic about a recent trip to Broadway, including his stage door experience at Disney's Aladdin.  As a special bonus the article also includes the Disney Dose podcast where Gavin interviewed by Adam Jacobs and James Monroe Iglehart!  I've posted a link to the interview before (it was originally released back in September) but if you've not heard it then it's well worth checking out!

The Daily Item has posted a heart warming story about a young girl who's dreams came true as the Make A Wish Foundation took her and her mother on a magical holiday to New York City, including a trip to Aladdin with a behind the scenes meeting with the cast.  I just love stories like this and I wish Lily all the best for her hospital evaluation this week.

And finally, Playbill is reporting that Andrew Keenan-Bolger (who played Omar in 5th Avenue's 2011 Pilot Production) is re-teaming with Aladdin Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw for the new musical Tuck Everlasting.  The Premiere Production will take place in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre from January 21st - February 22nd 2015.  Whilst dates have not yet been announced for Broadway it is believed that the production is Broadway bound so watch this space!

I'll come back to the reviews in a second, first take a look at this;

It seems stupid to say this as the show has been running for a few weeks but seeing that footage it actually feels real now!  And it looks fabulous!
Ok, as you all know The Hunchback of Notre Dame officially opened at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse on 9th November so all last week the reviews have been pouring in and, overall, they're very positive!  Here's what the critics have been saying;
Variety - "Scott Schwartz and the thesps overcome these traps.  Page's gradual descent into unmitigated evil is believable, complex and blessedly underplayed.  Renee's sizzling gypsy - choreographed with lighthearted artistry by Chase Brock - resists cliché through genuine vulnerability and charm.  And Arden is a revelation in the title role.  His delicately communicative physicality ... is wholly of a piece with a remarkably wide emotional range.  The laughs he earns are warm and in context, while his "I want" songs are the clarion calls of a tortured soul, devoid of any "American Idol"-influenced vocal pyrotechnics.  He is splendid."
U-T San Diego - "Hunchback is the rare such show that actually earns its grandeur, thanks mostly to the far-from-cartoonish humanity of its central characters."
La Jolla Light - "The music, lyrics, performances, direction, set design and costumes assemble into a majestic production of a classic story and bring it to life.  The Playhouse and all its contributors can be proud of their Hunchback of Notre Dame, a stage show that audience members will yearn to see again."
San Diego Gay & Lesbian News - "This version is large in concept and execution.  The impressive set is matched by fine actors with excellent voices ... But the heart of the show is Arden's Quasimodo, whose loneliness can be felt in the back row and whose voice on songs like "Out There and "Made of Stone" will break your heart as well ... Broadway is not in the offing yet, but this show has all the essential elements for a successful run there." 
LA Weekly - "Visually, the show is stunning ... the cast and the choir sound pristine" however "it doesn't offer anything new to the contemporary theatrical landscape".
Showbiz SoCal - "It's arguably one of Disney's most sophisticated adaptations, and one of Alan Menken's more sophisticated scores ... The direction of Scott Schwartz has many layers, and he tells the story with a great balance, always keeping the momentum moving forward so that when the beautiful melodies come in, they land comfortably at the right moments."
And it's not just the professionals.  The Playbill Collector posted her review of the show saying "Nothing was lacking from this masterpiece."
In fact the only out really negative review is that of the LA Weekly, the rest are (as seen above) largely positive with some constructive criticisms.  But to be honest the LA Weekly review lost me when it criticised the French setting as "reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast".  It just felt like it was reaching too much to find elements "borrowed" from other shows (its central criticism of Hunchback).  All in all, it's a very positive start for this new production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the cast and creative team have plenty to celebrate.  If the response in New Jersey is as positive as this then hopefully we'll see another fast transition to Broadway like we did with Newsies.
In other Hunchback news;
Hunchback of Notre Dame's Samantha Massell (who also played Princess Jasmine in Aladdin at The Muny) will be taking part in A Very Broadway Holiday! at 54 Below on 30th December.  Ticket details and more information can be found here!
SACRA/PROFANA member Rachel Moore shared the details of her first day as part of Notre Dame's choir with  U-T San Diego in the wonderful Diary of a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" Chorus Member.  It's a fascinating insight and well worth a read.
That's all for this week!  Have a great week and I'll be back at the weekend with another news round up.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ask Al Anything

Ask Aladdin anything! (And Jasmine, Genie and Jafar too!)

In just 5 hours time the stars of Disney's Aladdin on Broadway will be joining Reddit for their first Ask Me Anything!

It's easy to sign up (I just joined in literally less than a minute) so if you have any burning questions for Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart or Jonathan Freeman then this is your chance!

See you there!

Edit - Here we go!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Happy Opening to The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Michael Arden as Quasimodo and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Photo by Kevin Berne
"As I ring these bells tonight, my cold dark tower seems so bright!  I swear it must be Heaven's light!"
Tonight is the night!  Fifteen years after Der Glockner Von Notre Dame opened in Berlin, the long awaited US Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame officially opens tonight at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.
I just want to wish everyone at the La Jolla Playhouse the very best of luck for tonight's official opening.  From the ushers to the stars on stage to the friends and family supporting them in the audience.  This is your night, enjoy it.  I'm wishing you all the best.

Broadway News Round Up 23

Tia Altinay, Khori Michelle Petinaud & Rhea Patterson in Aladdin, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Welcome to another news round up for Broadway's Aladdin!  A shorter edition this week but there's still plenty going on in the magical land of Agrabah.

Broadway World is reporting that Aladdin's Tia Altinay (who understudies Jasmine) will be appearing in tomorrow night's At This Performance... at The Lion Theatre, New York.  At This Performance... is a musical showcase created to highlight the talents of Broadway's standbys, understudies and alternates.  Tickets are $26.25 each and are available from the box office.  For the talent you'd be seeing that's an incredible price so if you're able to attend I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Also on Monday night, Aladdin alumni Andrew Keenan-Bolger will join other Broadway stars performing The Songs of Adam Wachter at Broadway's 54 Below.  Further information can be found here.  Again, it's a fantastic price to see some extremely talented Broadway performers, so if you are in NYC and looking for something to do tomorrow night you really can't go wrong with either of these events.

Timeout is reporting that Aladdin's Yurel Echezeretta (who understudies Kassim) spent time last week visiting Harrison School of the Arts, talking with the students and even directing and choreographing some scenes for their production of West Side Story (including the classic school dance and rumble scenes) which is being put on as part of the school's 25th anniversary celebration.  I guess that technically makes it his directorial debut (or at least co-director), congratulations Yurel!

Ok, now everyone knows that Aladdin's dancers are pretty much the best on Broadway.  They dance their butts off 8 shows a week.  So if you want to learn then you want to learn from the best.  Well, Aladdin's Dance Captain Michael Mindlin is teaching a Dance Audtion Technique Seminar this week on 13th November in NYC.  More details can be found at Playbill.

Even when he's on holiday it seems I can't go a week without posting something about James Monroe Iglehart!  If you missed Freestyle Love Supreme's show (which JMI is a part of) and you live in the USA then the show is now available on iTunes.

And finally, is asking you to rank your Top 10 Must See Performances on Broadway right now.  Aladdin's Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart and Jonathan Freeman have all made the nominations so please give them some support!

From Agrabah to Paris!  It's been an exciting week for The Hunchback of Notre Dame as the show last night completed its preview performances.  Of course the biggest news of the week was our first official look at the cast.  But that wasn't the only news to come out of the La Jolla Playhouse last week.

Theater Mania reported that Ciara Renee (Esmeralda) will be taking part in Broadway Sings P!NK in January 2015.  Ciara will be joined by other Broadway stars singing new arrangements of P!NK's pop hits at two concerts to be held in New York on 19th and 25th January.  More information, including tickets, can be found here.

In addition to our first look at the cast the La Jolla Playhouse also gave us our first look at the fantastic show merchandise that is available to anyone going to see the show.  Since I'm an absolute sucker for Disney's show pins I'll definitely be picking up the pin badge when I see the show next year!

As well as showing off cast and merchandise photos, the La Jolla Facebook team also found time to speak briefly with Hunchback's Tony Award winning Lighting Designer Howard Binkley to discuss the production's tech rehearsals.

And finally, the San Diego Jewish Journal spoke with Director Scott Schwartz about the show.  I swear, the more I read about this show the more excited I get to finally see it!

Ok, that's pretty much it for today.  Except for one final thing I'll be back with in a few minutes...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

First Look at The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Best Disney news of the day (yes, even better than Toy Story 4) - La Jolla Playhouse has released the first production photos of The Hunchback of Notre Dame featuring Michael Arden as Quasimodo, Ciara Renee as Esmeralda, Patrick Page as Frollo and the cast of the US premiere production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Michael Arden as Quasimodo and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Photo by Kevin Berne

Ciara Renee as Esmeralda and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Photo by Kevin Berne
Patrick Page as Frollo and the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Photo by Kevin Berne

The US Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is currently in previews at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse and will officially open this Sunday, November 9th.  The production runs through December 14th and tickets can be purchased from La Jolla's website.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Aladdin to Premiere in Germany!

Last week, on 29th October, Disney Theatrical and Stage Entertainment officially announced that the European Premiere of the new Broadway production of Aladdin will take place at The Stage Theatre Neue Flora in Hamburg, Germany in Fall 2015.

"The heart and humor of the timeless tale of Aladdin, the Genie and the three wishes are loved worldwide across all cultural boundaries for generations.  We look forward, with Casey Nicholaw's spectacular staging, to years of successful partnership with Stage Entertainment to add another highlight." said Disney Theatrical's Thomas Schumacher.

Uschi Neuss of Stage Entertainment Germany added "We are delighted to be able to pick the next big Disney hit to Germany after the incredible success of The Lion King and Tarzan.  Hamburg is a musical capital and the perfect location for the European Premiere ... Aladdin is the ideal addition to our portfolio in the Hanseatic city"

Robert Langer, Country Manager for The Walt Disney Company in Germany agreed, "The enthusiasm for Disney musicals in Germany is exceptional.  We are extremely pleased that Aladdin will experience its European Premiere here with us.  On Broadway the spectacular production of Disney Theatrical Group is celebrating great success and we are proud to now offer this unique live experience to the German public."

My German is very limited (ok, non existent) so please accept my apologises if the above quotes are a little off.

More details can now be found on the show's official website and tickets are now on sale with performances starting on 15th December 2015.

Wow, that's two international announcements in two months!  According to Thomas Schumacher there are five international productions in the works so there's still three more to be announced!  It's an exciting time to be an Aladdin fan no matter where in the world you are!

Broadway News Round Up 22

James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Welcome to another Aladdin Broadway news round up!  Sorry this one is a few days late, I was away visiting family this weekend and didn't get time to post.

First this week, a quick vacation alert - James Monroe Iglehart is currently away living any Genie's dream vacation at Walt Disney World.  Whilst he's enjoying the magic, the incredible Michael James Scott will be making some on stage as Genie.

Talking about James Monroe Iglehart, remember a few weeks back when he took part in Celebrity Karaoke?  Well If/Then's James Snyder has captured some of the event in a special episode of his Vlog.  Check it out!

Just a quick reminder that tickets for Kids' Night on Broadway are now on sale.  Running from 9-15th January 2015 Kids' Nights allow anyone age 6-18 to see a participating show for free when accompanied by a full paying adult.  There's a fantastic range of shows, including Aladdin, so if you're going to be in NYC next January and want to see a show then it's a brilliant chance to save some money and introduce the younger generation to the magic of theatre.  More details and the full range of shows can be found at the link above.

Last Sunday saw a fundraiser being held at the Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie to benefit Mama's Party and Gideon's Feet.  Whilst this isn't directly Aladdin related, Gideon's Feet is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping theatre artists in need that was set up by Ashley Puckett Gonzales in memory of her first son, Gideon.  Ashley's husband is Brian Gonzales who plays Babkak in Aladdin.  Like I said, this isn't directly related to Aladdin but I wanted to highlight a good cause. are reporting that Don Darryl Rivera will be one of the stars taking part in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol on December 15th at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre.  This one night only concert is being held to benefit the Actor's Fund.  Tickets can be purchased here.  And whilst you're looking at the link make sure to watch the video of Josh Gad (Frozen's Olaf) trying to convince Jimmy Kimmel to dress up as Olaf for Halloween).

Last week James Monroe Iglehart and Adam Jacobs took part in Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Chatterbox.  The episode should be available soon on SethTV (guess it's time I got a subscription).

I'll be honest, I thought I gave the show a pretty good review but this kid has me beat;

If that doesn't make you want to take your whole family to see Aladdin then I don't know what will!

And on the subject fan reviews, here's another favourable fan review with an honourable mention of Adam Kaokept's debut as Iago.

Also this week Disney released the full version of ABC's Backstage Pass to Aladdin to their YouTube channel.  I know parts of this have been released before (and I think the full thing was released in 4 parts by ABC before as well) but here it is in full;

Halloween may be over but I'm going to conclude the Aladdin section of this news round up with some Halloween items.  Broadway Buzz rounded up Broadway's scariest villains, including Aladdin's Jonathan Freeman, to take part in a Halloween photo shoot and to discuss their villainy.  Broadway World lists Aladdin (or more specifically Prince Ali) as one of their Top 10 Broadway themed Halloween costumes.  And it looks like Adam Jacobs agreed as he teamed up with Aladdin's costume designer Gregg Barnes to create the perfect Halloween costumes for his two little princes (more pictures at Theater Mania);

And now from Agrabah to Paris!

With The Hunchback of Notre Dame now in it's second week at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse there has been a lot of favourable comments on message boards and social media, along with plenty of spoilers too.  Yes, there's the odd criticism but for the most part it actually seems to be (mostly) constructive rather than the usual chorus of "I don't like the changes" from people who haven't even seen the show.  If the reviews are equally as favourable then Hunchback could potentially become Disney Theatrical's best reviewed show since The Lion King.  I really hope so as that can only add to the show's already considerable chances of a Broadway transfer and, from what little I've heard, this show deserves a run on Broadway.  It sounds glorious.
The show's villain, Patrick Page, spoke with Playbill on the day the show opened about bringing Notre Dame's conflicted Archdeacon to life.
And if spoilers are what you want you can read all about the production and the changes here and here.  Sounds like audiences are really loving it!