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

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With Every Job When It’s Complete, There’s a Sense of Bittersweet: Musings on the Final Performance of Mary Poppins – March 3, 2013

A little Disney magic has left Broadway with the closing of Mary Poppins, though not before entertaining four million theatergoers both young and old for 2,619 performances during its six-year run at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Of the stage adaptations of Disney films, Mary Poppins is perhaps my favorite of the ones I had seen, and remains one of my favorite Disney films. As I had written roughly two months ago, I was saddened to hear of its closing (though if rumors are to believed, the next show to occupy the New Amsterdam Theater is Aladdin, so perhaps a bit of Disney magic will return to Broadway soon). Even though the LED marquee boasted that the final performance was sold out, I was able to obtain a ticket at the box office [the show was not listed on TKTS] sitting mid mezzanine (center). Indeed it was a full house, with a good percentage of the audience comprised of young children and their parents.

Mary Poppins Final Marquee

There were cheers at the very start and throughout, with massive ovations after every musical number, with a few in the mezzanine section giving a standing ovation after “Step in Time” (myself included). The cast was fantastic, giving it their all as they have at every performance – the only notable indications that it was the final performance was during “Step in Time” with Nicolas Dromard (as Bert) delivering his line (upside down after tap dancing up the perimeter of the stage) “One Last Time” instead of the usual “Step in Time”, and Steffanie Leigh (as Mary Poppins) singing her final verse with great emotion before ascending to the heavens for the last time. After the curtain call and a final reprise of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical Group, came out to thank the audience for their support and introduced to the stage the backstage crew as well as many of the children who had played Jane and Michael Banks (there have been 42 different children playing those two roles during the six-year run). Also acknowledged were several former cast members in the audience, including original cast members Ashley Brown and Rebecca Luker, and Christian Borle, before introducing to the stage (among others) musical supervisor David Caddick and composer Richard Sherman, who, with his brother Robert, wrote the original songs for Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins final curtain call - forefront (from left to right): Elizabeth Teeter, Karl Kenzler, Steffanie Leigh, & Nicolas Dromard

Mary Poppins final curtain call – forefront (from left to right): Elizabeth Teeter, Karl Kenzler, Steffanie Leigh, & Nicolas Dromard

 

Curtain Call - forefront: Richard Sherman & Thomas Schumacher

Curtain Call – forefront: Richard Sherman & Thomas Schumacher

There was a respectable crowd at the stage door (I suspect had it not been a chilly evening, the crowds would have been larger), waiting to greet the cast and show their appreciation. Despite the cold and the wind, the crowd waited and as the cast came out, there were hugs and conversations aplenty, with great appreciation from the cast of the crowd that remained waiting a little over an hour, along with the usual signing of playbills, posters and programs and posing for photos.

All in all, it was a magical experience to witness, though I must say that I’ve (sadly) seen too many closing performances of shows I love over the years. Then again, perhaps Mary Poppins’s job on Broadway is complete, and the show is needed elsewhere. Maybe we’ve got to get through things now on our own, but one this is for sure – like the Banks family, I’ll never forget Mary Poppins.

Final Mary Poppins playbill signed