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April 19, 2014

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Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ to sweep into Broadway

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Disney Theatrical Productions / AP

This undated publicity photo provided by Disney Theatrical Productions shows Aladdin with a lamp in a scene from the 1992 animated film, “Aladdin.”

Beyond the Sun

A stage musical of the animated film "Aladdin" is riding a magic carpet to Broadway and the president of Disney Theatrical Productions promises it will be "a full-length, big song musical with big dance numbers."

Thomas Schumacher said in an interview that the final two-act "Aladdin" will build on the 1992 film blockbuster with new songs by Alan Menken, additional characters and, appropriately, some magic tricks.

"If I look around Broadway right now, what I want to see is big production numbers. I want to see lush environments. I want surprise," Schumacher said Friday. "You want a lot of humor, which we will do. And you want heart."

"Aladdin" will be directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw, whose previous hits include "The Book of Mormon" and "The Drowsy Chaperone." Bob Crowley, who has a Tony for "Mary Poppins," will design the sets, and Chad Beguelin has written the story and some lyrics.

The musical will first be staged at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre this November for nine weeks with an eye to bringing it to Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre in 2014. "Mary Poppins," which is currently in the 1,797-seat New Amsterdam Theatre, ends its six-year run in March.

The animated version of "Aladdin" starred Robin Williams as the voice of the big blue genie and earned $500 million worldwide. The film score was created by Menken and Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics provided by Tim Rice after Ashman's death. Menken won the 1992 Oscar for best original musical score and the film's hit song, "A Whole New World," won a Grammy and Oscar.

Finding out how to make the genie come to life onstage was one of the biggest obstacles facing its creators. The answer for Disney was to take him from a shape-shifting blue spirit to a Cab Calloway-styled vaudevillian.

"I do feel pretty confident in what we've done with the genie," said Schumacher. "When you buy a ticket and sit down in a theater, you want the live experience, not a film recreated."

He also explained why Disney decided to close "Mary Poppins" even though it has been among the top 10 grossing shows for the past six years and top five for attendance: Its profitability wasn't going to last too much longer.

"I could tell that 'Mary Poppins' was coming to a place where it wasn't going to be self-sufficient," Schumacher said. "I can't keep it alive artificially."

Projections showed ticket sales gradually softening and the lavish show facing at least a few months in the red; the show would be in real trouble by the end of 2013. "There's a little bit of science, and a little bit of art, and a little bit of plain old experience that you have to use to figure that out," he said.

Disney has some 10 projects in development, including musicals made from "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame," ''Dumbo," ''Father of the Bride" and "Freaky Friday," and a play adaptation of "Shakespeare in Love." On top of that, Disney has recently created a new version of "The Little Mermaid" for Moscow and a Spanish-language "Mary Poppins" for Mexico.

"Sometimes it's reinventing the shows we have, sometimes it's taking the version we have and putting it into a new language and new culture, and sometimes it's making a new show," Schumacher said.

Disney Theatrical Productions hope that "Aladdin" will grant its wish and join its five big hits from seven attempts since 1994 — a profitable list that includes "The Lion King" and the more recent "Newsies." That's way above the 3-in-10 average recoupment of most Broadway shows.

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