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Aladdin

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Channeling Robin Williams' manic take on the genie in Walt Disney's animated feature Aladdin, Michael James Scott takes center stage as the Broadway Arabian nights tale of the "street rat" from the fictional city of Agrabah gets three wishes from from a genie in a magic lamp and has a happy romance with a princess. It is tailor-made for Disney, as their princesses are big business for the company, and the audience on opening night was liberally sprinkled with little girls cheering on the hero and heroine. Some were carrying purchased Jasmine dolls. Its message is positive, and it is delivered with humor and a generous portion of energy.

 

The creative team of Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics), having successes with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, collaborated on the animated Aladdin in 1992 along with Tim Rice, who contributed additional lyrics. When the Broadway show was produced in 2014, the original music was used along with additional songs with lyrics by Chad Beguelin, who wrote the book. It is among the most successful of Disney's forays into live theater, with numerous global productions.

 

Casey Nicholaw, whose work on The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon, and Elf had given him liberal accolades, was chosen as director and choreographer for the production, and his imaginative choreography brings the fantasy alive. An amalgam of the classic story and contemporary A Chorus Line-style dancing, its appeal lies in the enthusiasm of its cast and the stellar special effects. Bob Crowley's scenic design combined with Ken Travis' sound and Natasha Katz's lighting design make for satisfying dramatics. Jim Steinmeyer is also credited with illusion design. Gregg Barnes' costumes are particularly effective, especially in the Act I finale. Stars twinkle, lights crackle and pop, and scenery transforms to magical effect. Of course, the hit of the evening is Aladdin and Jasmine's soaring magic carpet ride over the stage.

As Princess Jasmine, Isabelle McCalla is spunky and much less the demure maiden of earlier Disney films like Cinderella and Snow White. She challenges the authority of the ruthless Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and ventures far beyond the confines of her kingdom. Weir's villainy is measured and droll, making his characterization more palatable for a younger audience. He is accompanied by Iago (Reggie De Leon), a pint-sized comic figure who substitutes for the parrot in the animated feature. His snarky asides add humor to the overall production.

Adam Jacobs makes a scrappy and appealing Aladdin. His boyish enthusiasm and upbeat characterization is a good counterfoil for Scott's over-the-top genie. Their "Friend Like Me" number is one of the highlights of the show. Also adding some fun to the adventure are Aladdin's street pals played by Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Mike Longo. Athleticism and energy give their portrayals punch. JC Montgomery also makes an appealing sultan, who belies the usual autocratic father.

The creative team of this production is extensive, as is often the case with Disney works. Orchestrations by Danny Troob, music supervision and incidental music and vocal arrangements by Michael Kosarin, dance music arrangements by Glen Kelly, and music coordination by Howard Joines combine to make the musical effective. Led by music director/conductor Brent-Alan Huffman, the show is snappy, fast-paced, and lively. A case might be made for some excision of musical numbers to trim the show from 2 1/2 hours to 2, making it more child friendly.

Some songs were added to the stage version of Aladdin. A particular favorite is delivered by Jacobs, "Proud of Your Boy," addressing the loss of his parents and his need to make his own way in the world.

Overall, the production has won awards wherever it has been performed. It was awarded Best Musical, Score, Book, and Choreography, among others, on Broadway and has garnered numerous others in London and Australian productions. "Friend Like Me" and "A Whole New World" have earned a life beyond the stage.

It should be noted that a Disney production always has a message. Loyalty, being true to your word, and honesty are explored without being too heavy handed or preachy. It was Walt Disney's special ambition.

Though Disney is often thought of as a children's franchise, it always plays well to adult audiences as well. Humor largely understood by adults is always injected into the productions making them universally popular. This touring production has all the flash and dazzle required to ensure audiences will enjoy it and can appeal across a broad spectrum of ticket buyers. This is often evidenced by people taking selfies and posing in front of Aladdin signs to post on social media. On opening night, crowds on the sidewalk impeded traffic so they could take pictures with the theater marquee as a backdrop. It is sure to continue to be a success.

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.