PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Aladdin — The Ashman Cometh (Again)

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21 Mar 2014

Adam Jacobs
Adam Jacobs
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN goes behind the scenes on opening night of the new Broadway musical Aladdin.


How far can you go on three wishes? Well, if you happen to be Thomas Schumacher of Disney Theatrical Productions — with Bob Crowley doing sets, Gregg Barnes doing costumes and Natasha Katz doing lights — you can pretty much go the distance.

Aladdin, the lush and lavish Arabian Nights musical fantasy that made itself right at home March 20 in the equally ornate and sumptuous New Amsterdam Theatre, is actually the dream of composer Alan Menken, who apparently rubbed Tommy's tummy — and voila! The musical comedy that Menken and his late lyricist, Howard Ashman, started for the Disney animators has at last come to life as they intended it.

The 40-year-old Ashman died of AIDS March 14, 1991, six songs into the show, and it has taken 23 years and six days to get the project back on the right track.

With Ashman no longer at the controls, his original musical-comedy concept withered and suddenly became an adventure romp in which the animation elves whipped up a flurry of dazzling effects. Only three Menken-Ashman songs survived: "Arabian Nights," played over the 78-second credit-crawl and now a lollapalooza curtain-raiser; "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali." Four songs were shelved, and Tim Rice was brought in to provide words for the lively "One Jump Ahead," a lyrically revised "Prince Ali" and the Oscar-winning "A Whole New World." For the Broadway production, book writer Chad Beguelin got in his lyrical licks in four new songs.

When it was first suggested that Aladdin pitch tent at the New Amsterdam, said Schumacher, "Alan came to me and said, 'Here are all these trunk songs that Howard and I wrote. Why don't we restore them into the show and start with that as a structure? So, that's just what he and Chad went about doing. They felt they could build a story — pretty close to what Howard started out with — by using these songs."

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Beguelin, a Tony-nominated book and lyrics writer for The Wedding Singer, figured he has been working on Aladdin off and on, between nonmusical plays like Harbor, "for four or five years. Originally, it was going to be a straightforward adaptation of the movie, but, when Alan brought forth all these cuts songs, we had to put back characters who were to have sung them or add new characters who would sing them. Aladdin had a mother in the movie but doesn't in the musical, so he sings a moving Menken-Ashman song, 'Proud of Your Boy,' to her in heaven. It's really the heart of the show."

Aladdin's three sidekicks — played here by Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz (no, not that one) and Brandon O'Neill — are back in the picture, dispatching two Ashman numbers, "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim" and an exuberant swordfight dance, "High Adventure," plus a new contemporary ditty, "Somebody's Got Your Back."

The latter is by Beguelin, who penned the lyrics to a new love ballad for the leads ("A Million Miles Away"), a villainous cackle of a song for Jafar and Iago ("Diamond in the Rough") and Princess Jasmine's new "I want" song ("Beyond These Palace Walls," replacing the one Ashman song that didn't make the cut, "Call Me a Princess," which got as far as Seattle and Toronto before being officially dropped at the doorstep of Broadway).


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