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Bringing 'Aladdin' to life on stage

Broadway smash musical 'Aladdin' hits ASU Gammage Jan. 31 to Feb. 17


The cast of "Aladdin" performs "Friend Like Me" on their North American tour. Photo courtesy Dean van Meer

January 25, 2019

Early in the evolution of "Aladdin," composer Alan Menken, book writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin, and director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw got together to write a brand new song for the stage musical — a unique collaboration that could only happen 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 II,” recalled Menken. “And we wrote this song called ‘Somebody’s Got Your Back.’ It was just one of these 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 ... and within a half an hour, we had the beginning of this song. And we’re very proud of it. The best part of the process is always the initial creativity, the initial writing — and that was a great moment.”

It’s hard to imagine that the late, great lyricist Howard Ashman wouldn’t be ridiculously pleased with the success of his Disney-based collaborations with longtime songwriting partner Alan Menken. The duo’s iconic scores for the animated films "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" were given continued life as Broadway musicals, seen by millions all over the country and the world.

But what about the pair’s last Disney project — 1992’s "Aladdin"? Die-hard fans know Menken and Ashman had written 11 songs for the film, only to have most of them cut from early drafts of the screenplay; production was later marred by Ashman’s woefully early passing from AIDS-related complications in 1991. Did any of those original songs still exist? Could a reimagined "Aladdin" ever make it to Broadway? The answer, thankfully, was “yes” — and the final product joins several of Howard Ashman’s original ideas for the film with brand-new, wholly theatrical notions from the new musical’s blue-chip creative team. 

It all started several years ago, when Tony-nominated lyricist Chad Beguelin was asked to help put together a draft of a stage version of "Aladdin." When Menken saw Beguelin’s initial draft, he realized the time was right to resurrect the film’s little-heard deleted songs and debut them to a new generation.

“It’s been really a unique process,” Beguelin said. “The task was to create 'Aladdin,' ‘the new stage musical,’ but also integrate these lost songs — which are really wonderful. It’s been like putting together a musical puzzle.”

While a host of new or previously-unheard songs takes flight, fans can expect all their favorites — including the Menken/Tim Rice Oscar-winner “A Whole New World” and a totally swingin’ version of “Friend Like Me.” 

Bringing "Aladdin" to Broadway and now to audiences across North America has been a memorable experience, even for stage adaptation-maestro Menken.

“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 said. “And it’s now being brought to life on stage!”

Ultimately, Nicholaw thinks audiences will hail the “new” Menken/Ashman tunes and the brand-new Menken/Beguelin songs and fully embrace this fresh, joyful take on a classic.

“It’s about keeping all the stuff that everyone loves from the movie and in order to get it on stage, give it a musical-comedy heart.”  

Aladdin comes to ASU Gammage Jan. 31–Feb. 17. Get tickets at asugammage.com

Written by Courtney Potter for ASU Gammage Inner Circle magazine. Potter is a writer with 15 years of experience in digital and print media. She has an extensive background in both local and regional theater.

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