On a Magic Carpet Ride: Musings on Aladdin – October 31, 2015

Disney animated films have always masqueraded as movie musicals, especially those that were released in the 1990s. The majority of them have transferred from the screen to the [Broadway] stage, albeit with varying degrees of success (and if this pattern continues, I sincerely hope there will be a stage adaptation of Mulan or Hercules on Broadway sometime in the near future). The most recent screen to stage adaptation is Aladdin, currently playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Per usual, I obtained tickets via the TDF ticket raffle table at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction, and quasi-continues a tradition of my seeing a Broadway show on Halloween night, though this year I managed to schedule a double header (i.e. two shows in one day, though technically speaking it wasn’t the “traditional” matinee and evening performance, as the first show was the already blogged about Drunk Shakespeare, whose performance started at 4pm). I’ve always been a fan of Disney animated films (who hasn’t?) and had enjoyed the screen to stage adaptations (or at least the ones I had an opportunity to see), and while I know the stage adaptation can’t be “just like” the film (for the obvious reasons), it’s always interesting to see what changes (additions, omissions and adjustments) are made, and what remains the same, and how it effects the story.

Aladdin poster

While it’s been several years since I last watched the animated film, the overall look and spirit of the story remains intact: the tale of a princess and the “street rat” yearning to be more than what society expects them to be, the villain wanting ultimate power and the genie who just wants to be free. The stage adaptation has a handful of new songs, with the music by Alan Menken (who wrote the songs for the film) and lyrics by David Zippel, Stephen Schwartz and Glenn Slater, as well as new characters (Babkak, Omar and Kassim, three of Aladdin’s friends, presumably to compensate for the loss of Abu, Aladdin’s monkey sidekick in the film). There’s an additional (emotional) subplot revolving the memory of Aladdin’s mother, highlighted in “Proud of Your Boy” (one of the new songs). And of course, there’s a lot more singing and dancing in the stage adaptation, which is visually stunning, and expertly performed. I’m not quite as enamored on the new subplot/sidekicks, while it brings about a good deal of character development and (some) exposition, it seems out of place with the overall story, with some of it is reminiscent of other Disney animated films. The same can be said of most of the new songs – they don’t seem to live in the same “sound world” as the songs from the film, and faintly reminded me of other (recognizable, Alan Menken-penned songs).

Aladdin Halloween night cast list

That being said, the standout moments came in the form of the Genie, expertly played by James Monroe Iglehart, with just about the same amount of pizzazz and sassiness as the late, great Robin Williams (who played the role of the Genie in the film). The energy he exuded was palpable and his numbers nearly (literally) stopped the show – ‘twas a Tony-worthy performance. While I was miffed that Jonathan Freedman (who originated the role of Jafar in the film) was out, his understudy, James Moye, was fantastic, with just the right amount of villainy without making it too campy, well supported by Don Darryl Rivera as Iago, (a nice change that he was played as a human rather than as a parrot, as that character was in the film). The rest of the cast, including leads Adam Jacobs (in the titular role) and Courtney Reed as Jasmine, were great. The choreography was stunning as was the overall set design, with its warm, lush colors. “A Whole New World”, complete with the flying carpet did not disappoint and was as magical as it was in the film.

The stage door scene was not as busy per usual – I’m not sure if that was because it was Halloween night and the departing audience wanted to partake in the various Halloween festivities, yet the cast came out, chatting amicably with those who were waiting at the stage door, taking photos and signing playbills.

Clockwise from top left: Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart and James Moye

Clockwise from top left: Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart and James Moye

Despite my somewhat mixed impression of the show, I had a great time, and would recommend it to those who enjoyed the film and also enjoy the previous Broadway adaptation of Disney animated films. It’s always a magical experience seeing a Disney show on Broadway.

Aladdin signed playbill

The Bard and the Booze: Thoughts on Drunk Shakespeare – October 31, 2015

Shakespeare’s plays have existed for hundreds of years and have been adapted in a myriad of ways and performed in (almost) all media genres. The interpretations have ranged from the literal to the metaphoric, the serious to the surreal – his works have been translated into every (living) language in the world, and performed by men and women of all ages. Some interpretations are of the complete text (as they were written/transcribed), and some are reductions or adaptations of the aforementioned complete text. But for all the brilliant performances given by countless actors over the centuries in all the various incarnations of the text all over the world, there was something missing from those productions.

Alcohol.

Well, at least the overt inclusion of alcohol during the performance – I’m almost certain that covert intoxication has been a component of an actor’s performance of Shakespeare (and perhaps other plays) since they were first conceived. Drunk Shakespeare, as performed by members of the Drunk Shakespeare Society, sets to fill this void, and with great spirit(s) [pun well intended], currently playing at the Lounge at the Roy Arias Stages on West 44th Street (near 8th Avenue). I obtained these tickets via the TDF ticket raffle table at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS [BC/EFA] Flea Market & Grand Auction, and was intrigued by the premise of one actor downing (at least) 5 shots of whisky before attempting to perform a Shakespearean play.

Drunk Shakespeare

[Disclaimer: As their site www.drunkshakespeare.com/ states, “We do not condone excessive drinking. Our actors have a regular rotation system and are carefully monitored at all times. Drinking in moderation can be fun. Drinking to excess can ruin your life.  We promote healthy drinking.”

So these are professional drinkers of (American) legal drinking age – DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.]

As alcohol is a vital component of the performance, theatergoers have to be 21+ (and they do check IDs) – indeed upon entering the performance space, which is surrounded by bookshelves with chairs all around, patrons are handed a complimentary shot (on the night I went, it was a Tequila Sunrise). As it was Halloween, the Shakespeare play performed was (appropriately) Macbeth, and performed within 90 minutes, with five actors – four men and one woman, one of whom has the aforementioned multiple shots of whisky. At the performance I attended (with my friend Kelley, who was dressed up as Neil Diamond, circa 1970s), the five actors were Whit Leyenberger, Julia Giolzetti, Tim Haber (who also acted as the Host of the proceedings, explaining the overall premise), Brandon Carter and Josh Sauerman (the designated drunk actor). In the spirit of Halloween, several audience members (and the cast) were dressed in costume, and they held an informal costume contest, for which the first prize was a bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne – my friend Kelley won the contest, so thus we were bestowed said bottle of champagne.

 The overall concept of Drunk Shakespeare is a kind of mash-up of the ethos of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, with a healthy dose of improv, reminiscent of Second City and Whose Line is it Anyway? The spirit of reduction abounds (skipping the “boring” parts and getting right to the sex and the killing), with periodic flourishes of pop culture references and audience participation/interaction, as well as challenges for the actors to incorporate throughout the performance, assigned by their fellow actors. There was definitely a sense of camaraderie (chemistry?) among the quintet – they reacted to one another not so much as a troupe of actors but more as a group of longtime friends putting on a (Shakespearean) play.

There wasn’t that much of a stage door experience, as the performance space was sparse (yet effective), and the cast (and audience) dispersed quickly after the performance, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to ask for a group photo with the cast (which may or may not have been impaired by the free champagne and Tequila Sunrise), I did manage to snap a photo of some of the cast with the costumed audience members (among whom was my friend Kelley).

Drunk Shakespeare Halloween

It’s a brilliantly entertaining evening (or in my case, late afternoon) to watch a (literal) handful of actors perform the essence of a Shakespeare play, and to watch how (well) the intoxicated actor fares throughout the performance. Each performance is of a different play, with a different actor designated to partake in the “nectar of the gods”, so theoretically, there is a near infinite combination of possibilities and a high probability of a uniquely different performance every time. I highly recommend seeing this show, and to experience Shakespeare as it (probably) was performed back in Elizabethan times: with a healthy (moderate) dose of alcohol.

For more information, including performance schedules, visit: http://www.drunkshakespeare.com/

Drunk Shakespeare flyers