Just as “Hamilton” is scheduled to finish out the year with gusto at the historic Hollywood Pantages Theatre, playing to one sold-out audience after another, “Aladdin” is expected to bedazzle with a similar enthusiasm between January 10th and March 31st. Since its stage debut in 2011, followed by a successful run on Broadway in 2014, and even winning one Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (James Monroe Iglehart, Genie), “Aladdin” has managed to reinvent itself while continuing its momentum since the hugely popular film in 1992.
With its Los Angeles premiere on the horizon, The Montalbán Theatre on Vine Street (only a few blocks from the Pantages) hosted an exciting preview on June 7th of what’s to come, emceed by President of Disney Theatrical Group, Thomas Schumacher, who interviewed legendary composer Alan Menken and introduced three key players of the Broadway cast adorned in classy business attire – Courtney Reed (Jasmine), Major Attaway (Genie), and Telly Leung who will play Aladdin beginning June 13th.
Schumacher, clad in white-rimmed eyeglasses, demonstrated an infectious charisma and likability about himself that was immediately apparent. He explained that he had coincidentally lived on Lexington and Vine many years prior, and sold women’s shoes, as part of paying his dues en route to living the life he always wanted. As Schumacher recounted like a seasoned professor, the success of “Aladdin” is a big part of this realized dream, dating back to its life-blood origins inspired from “One Thousand and One Nights,” to now its current status as a stage spectacular boasting a combined 2.1 million Swarovski crystals and 380 costume changes.
“Aladdin’s” transition to the stage realm has been a natural one for Schumacher’s dear friend, Alan Menken, whose score was expanded by going back to the original/unabridged draft, and then annexing more compositions for the stage for an added count of 11, including reprises. Certainly, the highly decorated Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Tony-Award winner has a reputation that precedes him with regard to Disney films and stage musicals – a visual that was charmingly illustrated by Schumacher, who carted a wagon filled with replica trophies across The Montalbán stage.
Menken, who sat at a piano situated in the corner, described for Schumacher and the audience how his “Aladdin” odyssey took form as a result of his partnership with lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. We learn from Menken that for a brief time the film was not given the highest priority due to its “edgy lyrics for the day,” being shelved for “Beauty and the Beast.” Yet, there was an undeniable pull to the concept that was conceived as an homage to the Harlem Jazz Renaissance, which Menken demonstrated with a sample of “Friend Like Me” – an iconic piece that was later performed by Major Attaway.
Out first for the piano-accompanied mini concert, though, were Reed, who has portrayed Jasmine since the start of the Broadway show, and Leung, who had been earmarked to play the title role for a while. Together they beautifully sang “A Whole New World,” and “A Million Miles Away” (one of the songs written specifically for the musical) with a romantic, effervescent tonality that one would expect. This was followed by Leung’s impressive mash-up solo of “One Jump Ahead,” and then “Proud of Your Boy” (one of the songs from the original score that was re-added).
For the final two songs, Attaway, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and Leung, performed a preview of their rousing choreography in “Somebody’s Got Your Back” (made for the musical), before Attaway took the stage by himself to regale the crowd with a delightfully scintillating version of “Friend Like Me.”
Overall, a significant reason for why “Aladdin” has taken off – first the film and now the musical – is because it features skilled individuals who have worked so diligently to materialize a tremendous vision. In addition to the previously noted players, Chad Beguelin, who wrote the book, and Casey Nicholaw, who designed the choreography, have heartily contributed to the live production of “Aladdin,” which has fanned the sparkling blue fires of the imagination by offering a vicarious lens into a wondrous Arabian tale. And, in a mere six months, Los Angeles will be another one of several cities across the globe to experience, live, Disney’s classic phenomenon.
For more information on how to purchase tickets for “Aladdin” at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in spring 2018, please visit hollywoodpantages.com