Martin Morse Wooster: If you’re wondering why there are
so many musicals based on movies, blame the New York Times.
winter I read Razzle Dazzle, a very
entertaining oral history of Broadway between 1900-1990 by Michael Riedel. According to Riedel, when Beauty and the Beast was released, Times critic Frank Rich said the film was “the
best Broadway musical” released that year.
The suits at Disney headquarters read Rich’s review and thought to
themselves, “Hmmm! Turning our movies
into musical theater! What a really good
idea!” And so the Disney Theatrical Group was born.
is the second Disney musical I’ve seen, after The
Little Mermaid. But while The Little Mermaid was the theatrical
equivalent of AAA baseball, Aladdin
was the national tour that played at the Kennedy Center Opera House, a 3,000-seat
knew this was an upscale evening when I stopped to buy a CD and refrigerator
magnet. Disney wouldn’t sell me a CD: I
could only buy it as part of a package that included a program that was very
pretty but that I really didn’t want to buy.
the store was full of schwag! Had I
wanted to, I could have gotten the official Aladdin
fleece blanket, the lamp, the dolls, the teddy bear, the expensive dolls… I didn’t see anyone buy any of this stuff, but
they wouldn’t make it if people weren’t buying it.
for the musical, the score is by Alan Menken, who’s written scores for a DVD
shelf full of Disney musicals. His first
collaborator was Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for Beauty and The Beast and The
Little Mermaid (and, pre-Disney, Little
Shop of Horrors). But Ashman died of AIDS in 1991 while Aladdin
was in development, so Sir Tim Rice was brought in as lyricist. To my mind, Sir Tim is a lesser lyricist than
Ashman, but he wrote the lyrics for “A Whole New World,” which is the greatest
Disney power ballad of all time and which won an Oscar.
the stage version of Aladdin, which
premiered in 2014, Chad Beguelin was brought in for a new book and some new
songs. In the stage version, Howard
Ashman wrote the lyrics for five songs, Sir Tim Rice wrote two, Chad Beguelin
wrote four, and the rest were collaborations.
bought the CD/program, here are some secrets from it. Remember the great Max Fleischer cartoon
where Popeye met Aladdin and the genie?
That’s the genesis of this musical.
You’re supposed to detect traces of Fats Waller and Cab Calloway in the
yes, the genie is black.
As for the plot—well, come on, you know the plot. Disney released the Aladdin remake last month! The smarter question is: what are you getting on stage that you aren’t
getting in a movie theatre?
the book has quite a lot of snark in it.
Beguelin does indeed rhyme “awful” with “falafel.” And if you want more Mediterranean food
jokes, there were some for hummus and baba ganoush.
there’s dancing! Lots and lots of
dancing! Aladdin has three sidekicks,
and boy do they dance! They make a
“Dancing With The Stars” joke in Aladdin,
except here it’s “Dancing With The Scimitars,” and yes, they dance with
what made Aladdin work was the sets
and the direction. Casey Nicholaw
directed; he got a Tony for this show and another Tony for The Book of Mormon. The set
designer was Bob Crowley, who has done a lot of work for the National Theatre
and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain.
time I saw one of Crowley’s brightly colored sets, I told myself, “This is
cool.” And the flying carpet was very cool.
for the performers, two stood out. Korey
Lee Blossey was the genie I saw; he’s actually the understudy but was fully
prepared for the demanding part and even did a cartwheel on stage just to prove
he could. Jonathan Weir played the
villain Jafar; he’s done a lot of work in Chicago and has a great voice. He reminded me of Jonathan Harris in “Lost in
theatre critic Nelson Pressley called Aladdin
a “Big Gulp XL” of a musical, and when I watched it, I felt the same way I feel
when the free Cherry Coke kicks in after a Saturday afternoon at the movies. Aladdin wasn’t great art, but a very well
made, high-quality entertainment with plenty of first-rate singing, dancing,
a word about Disney. A Financial Times article recently
referred to Disney as “the apex predator” of entertainment, but the reason they
got to the top is because they hire first-rate talent and give them a chance to
show their excellence. Yes, Disney has
stinkers (OK, I saw Cars 3) but more
often than not their productions work.
suspect Frozen will be the nest
Disney Theatrical Group production to come to Washington. I can’t wait to see it.
The best bit of ancient gossip in Razzle
Dazzle is about David Belasco, who was the lion of Broadway in 1910 but is
only remembered because he wrote the plays Puccini turned into Madama Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. According to Riedel, Belasco liked wandering
around wearing a priest’s vestments. No
one knows why, but one likely reason is that Belasco thought the vestments
would attract women.
Yes, I saw the new Aladdin. It’s good, but The Lion King is much better.