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

By Harry Haun
21 Mar 2014

Jonathan Freeman
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"Yes, I've had to work a little bit on my tap-dancing," he conceded. "It wasn't originally like that, and I think Casey discovered I could move a little bit and then he said, 'I think I'll make a little bit more choreography for you,' and he did just that."

The only person in the show you'll recognize from the film — and it was an animated film, you'll remember — is the imperious Jonathan Freeman, reprising the wicked royal adviser, Jafar. The reason you'll recognize him is he was photographed delivering the overripe dialogue so animators could accurately draw him.

"My recollection is going to the corner of Dopey Drive and Goofy Lane — to Studio B, where I did most of the work," Freedman recalled. "There was no phone-patching back then. Now you could be anywhere — in your closet, in your apartment in your pajamas, and people will set up studios — but at the time I had to get on a plane and go to L.A. There were two cameras — one for a full-body shot, and the other for close-up — and you'd stand at a podium, basically reading. I just approach it as I approach any character: I physicalize it. I think anyone who does these voiceovers does that."

Jafar's second-act song is really a reprise of the Menken-Ashman "Prince Ali," which is used at the top of Act II to introduce Aladdin to the city in his royal disguise — only sinisterized with new Tim Rice lyrics. "Jafar's had, over the years, seven songs that have come and gone in different versions. Working on that film was like working on any musical: Two steps forward, one step back. A scene goes that doesn't support the song anymore so the song goes. Then they find a new place for you to have a song."

The triple-somersault exit that Jafar makes at the end — from his flowing black robe to a white one to a red one — is something Freedman chalks off to "Disney magic. Musical comedies are great collaborative efforts, so that magic effect at the end is a collaborative effort of costuming and lighting and direction and writing and pyrotechnics. Those few moments are really the collaboration of American musical theatre at its best."

Jafar's yes-man sidekick in the movie was an ominipresent parrot named Iago, who was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. In his musical transformation, he takes human form as Don Darryl Rivera, a Seattle actor making his Broadway debut, wearing feathery homages here and there and drawing complaints from Jafar about his "squawking," along with the question,"Must you parrot everything I say?" It's a cleverly reconceived cartoon, delivered with determined panache and an overly eager smile not to be believed. He also captures Gottfried's sand-paper rasp and strident annoyance.