There was much excitement in the rehearsal room of the Capitol Theatre this morning, as it was announced Sydney will next year host the Australian premiere of Disney’s Aladdin.
Aladdin made its Broadway debut in March 2014 and was subsequently nominated for five Tony Awards, included the highly coveted Best Musical prize.
Adapted from the 1992 Disney film and centuries-old folktales including 1001 Nights, the production features a full score that includes five songs from the Oscar-winning soundtrack and further tracks written specifically for the production.
After Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, took to the stage to speak about the latest coup for NSW on the events front, it was over to Disney Theatrical’s president and producer, Thomas Schumacher, to give attendees an insight into what’s in store.
According to Schumacher, it’s been a decades-long process bringing Aladdin to the stage, but in his words: “More thinking about how to do it than the ‘do it’ process.”
Schumacher stressed how much more difficult it was to bring Aladdin to the stage than some of Disney Theatrical’s other successful endeavours. “The translation of Beauty and the Beast to stage is pretty direct because Beauty and the Beast was really structured like a Broadway musical. But Aladdin really isn’t structured like a Broadway musical,” he said.
Determining how to bring the character of the genie to life to theatre audiences was one of the most challenging tasks on the table for Disney creatives. “The genie was really the combination of three remarkably talented people. The first is, of course, the voice actor, Robin Williams. But then there had to be someone to edit Robin Williams. So Robin Williams might riff for 15 minutes, and the editor, Don Ernst, had to turn that into a quick moment of Robin.
“Then the third and probably the most magical part of that was the animator, Eric Goldberg, who turned the genie into a shape-shifting character; the idea that he could become this, he could become that. That idea is so filmic…”
So how precisely did the team ultimately get around that challenge? Schumacher explains: “What Howard Ashman and Alan Menken created for the genie was this character who actually was a showman, based on the jazz singers of the Harlem Renaissance – Cab Calloway, Fats Waller…” And it was the genie in that guise who they decided would work best in front of a life audience. “You put the genie at the centre of the show. He then becomes the host of the show. He does the opening number and takes you all the way through it. That’s where the big breakthrough came.”
Once the genie obstacle was overcome, there was also the issue of recreating the film’s iconic magic carpet ride scene. Without giving too much away, Schumacher describes the impact of the effect on stage as “spectacular” and says: “It’s in fact a technique that’s almost 100 years old that had never been used at this level before. The technique itself is one I had learned about…when we were making Mary Poppins.”
Aladdin is designed for the stage by seven-time Tony-winning scenic designer Bob Crowley (also responsible for the incredible design for Disney’s Mary Poppins), five-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz, two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes and sound designer Ken Travis.
The show will open at the Capitol Theatre in August 2016, with tickets going on sale in March. On the subject of casting for Aladdin’s Australian premiere, Schumacher talked about his familiarity with the local talent pool from casting on other Disney productions, but said the casting process is yet to begin. “I have a lot of ideas in my head…but we won’t officially start until after the 1st of the year.”