TOP: The Genie and the company of “Aladdin.” Photos courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions.
How the ‘Aladdin’ creative team brought
the animated feature film to the Broadway stage.
EARLY IN THE EVOLUTION of Aladdin, composer Alan Menken, book writer/lyricist Chad Beguelin and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw got together to write a new song for the stage musical — the kind of collaboration that probably could happen only on Broadway.
“We needed to write a new song for the Genie, [for] when he’s going to free Aladdin from the dungeon in Act 2,” says Menken. “And we wrote this song called ‘Somebody’s Got Your Back.’ It was just one of those old-fashioned theater moments where you lock three people in a room. I run over to the piano and try an idea, Casey gets up and gets kind of a movement idea. And Chad shouts out lyric ideas. Within half an hour, we had the beginning of this song. The best part of the process is always the initial creativity, the initial writing — and that was a great moment.”
Aladdin opened on Broadway on Feb. 26, 2014, and is more than 1,900 performances into that run in addition to this national tour. The show won a featured actor Tony Award for its original genie, James Monroe Iglehart, and nominations for best book of a musical, original score and choreography.
It’s easy to imagine the late lyricist Howard Ashman being ridiculously pleased with the success of his Disney-based work with longtime writing partner Menken. Their iconic scores for the animated movies The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast both found second lives as Broadway musicals.
But what of their last Disney project together — 1992’s Aladdin? Die-hard fans know that Menken and Ashman had written 11 songs for the movie, only to have most of them cut from early drafts of the screenplay. Ashman’s 1991 death, from AIDS-related complications, had complicated production.
Did any of those songs still exist? Could a reimagined Aladdin make it to Broadway? The answers are “yes.” The final version of the show joins several of Ashman’s original ideas for the movie with new, wholly theatrical notions from the new blue-chip creative team.
It began when Beguelin, a Tony-nominated lyricist (The Wedding Singer) was asked to collaborate on a draft of a stage version of Aladdin. When Menken saw Beguelin’s first draft, he realized it was time to resurrect the film’s deleted songs and debut them for a new generation.
“It’s been really a unique process,” Beguelin says. “The task was to create Aladdin ‘the new stage musical,’ but also to integrate these lost songs. It’s been like putting together a musical puzzle.”
Audiences can still expect their favorites — including the Oscar-winning Menken/Tim Rice song “A Whole New World” and a swinging “Friend Like Me.”
Getting Aladdin on Broadway was a memorable experience, even for someone with a track record like Menken’s. “Coming to the show is like opening up, in a sense, a treasure trove — or a ‘cave of wonders,’ if you will — of material that was intended for the animated movie,” he says.
Ultimately, Nicholaw — familiar to Atlanta audiences for his work at the Alliance Theatre (The Prom, Tuck Everlasting) thinks audiences will welcome the “new” Menken/Ashman tunes and the new Menken/Beguelin songs. “It’s about keeping all the stuff that everyone loves from the movie and, in order to get it onstage, give it a musical-comedy heart.”
This article originally ran in Disney twenty-three, a publication of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.