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Aladdin Was Amazing

edited August 2011 in Theater
When I first learned that Howard was the lyricist behind some of my favorite childhood songs, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I now had an entire avenue of inquiry to pursue, and becoming a twenty-years-too-late groupie of Howard Ashman taught me far more about musicals (both theatrical or animated) than I would have stumbled upon on my own.

On the other hand, that inquiry left me sad about Howard's last unfinished work. While the final Aladdin movie was a favorite of mine (along with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), I got short glimpses into an Aladdin that could have been by listening to the unproduced songs in Howard Sings Ashman. Listening to those songs, I found myself wishing that "Disney's Aladdin" had included these ultimately unproduced songs.

But 20 years had gone by, and I assumed that these characteristically wonderful songs would be lost, available for Howard Ashman fans in the form of his original demos, but never reaching the wider audience that they deserved.

A few months ago, I got the shock of my life to learn that not only was Aladdin coming to the theater, but that the new songs (translating a Disney animated musical to the theater always requires new songs) would largely come from these cutting-room songs, and that Alan Menken would be involved. I knew I had to see it, so I bought tickets to see the last showing with my wife on July 31.

I live in San Francisco, so I would be taking a special trek to Seattle, but I knew it would be worth it. (sidebar: the trip to Seattle came on the heels of a trip to Portland, followed up by a trip to Indianapolis in the previous week for work).

A day later, I couldn't be happier. The production itself was fantastic, with the electric cast more than making up for the fairly limited sets (limited for a Disney adaption, that is). In my excitement to hear new fully-produced songs by Howard, I missed the announcement that Jonathan Freeman, who played Jafar in the original animated movie, would reprise his role for the musical, a welcome treat.

The songs I was there to see, "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim", "Proud of Your Boy", "Call Me a Princess", and "High Adventure", were impeccably produced, weaved brilliantly back into the Disney storyline that supplanted the original plan.

In keeping with an apparently modest production cost, the two animal sidekicks from the movie, Abu and Iago, were eliminated. Abu was replaced by the aforementioned Babkak, Omar and Kassim, with the line "you're my only friend Abu" replaced with "I wish I had a friend or two". Iago became a human lackey for Jafar, with the homage "why are you parroting me" thrown in for good measure.

The glimpse of the original storyline (a "Crosby and Hope road movie") that we saw whenever Aladdin sidekicks popped in to narrate the story (and hang a lantern on the mechanics of the stage show) was also great. Interestingly, both the characters of Babkak, Omar and Kassim and the treatment of the song "Proud of Your Boy", illustrate that Aladdin's storyline change did not necessitate the elimination of as many of Howard's songs that fell to the cutting room floor.

That said, I'm glad that 20 years later, I got to experience a production with brand new lyrics by Howard Ashman. It was definitely worth the wait.

Comments

  • Really? Well I live in a town in Oregon that's practically across from Washington, so when I get my own car and see if I have enough money to get a ticket, I'll probably see if I can't think about taking some time off and checking it out.
  • Sadly, it's too late to buy a car, toonmate - the show closed on Sunday. But never fear, Disney is amazingly resourceful - I hope we'll see that production again, somewhere else.
    Glad you agreed with me about the show, wycats. But I really loved the scaled down aspects that relied on ingenuity, willing suspense of disbelief and good old-fashioned stagecraft. I'm just a sucker for that stuff.
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