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|Aladdin, Live or DOA?|
World-famous music composer and eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken recently sat down at the piano to play a medley of his tunes (shown above), and teased his audience with a snippet of the new song he has written just for "Disney's Aladdin – Live On Stage."
"Disney's Aladdin – Live On Stage," the new show replacing the popular but now-closed "The Power of Blast" at the Hyperion Theatre in Disney's California Adventure park, was introduced to the press on October 7 by Anne Hamburger, the show's producer and the executive vice president of Creative Entertainment for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
"The reason why I was brought here," Ms. Hamburger said (shown below), "was to elevate the quality of live entertainment in our theme parks and resorts around the world."
When she said that, I must admit my first thought was that the shows we have now are anything but an elevation in quality -- especially when I remember the shows I used to come to Disneyland to see: Beauty and the Beast, Mickey's Nutcracker, Hunchback of Notre Dame – Festival of Fools, The Legend of Pocahontas, to name a few.
"It will ring in a new era for live entertainment in our theme parks, because it has absolutely everything you could hope for," said Ms. Hamburger, who went on to describe her new show. "Aladdin is a fantastic story. It’s about freedom. It’s Jasmine’s freedom from the obligations that her royal family is imposing upon her to have to marry someone that she doesn’t love, it’s Aladdin striving for freedom from poverty and it culminates in a fantastic love story."
Okay, with that description, Anne kind of piqued my interest. Aladdin is not my favorite story, but that sure sounds good, doesn't it Dear Readers?
Ms. Hamburger continued. " I’m sure you all are familiar with many of the tunes. It was composed by Alan Menken, the score is by Howard Ashman and it’s got really great spectacle and as Disney always does very well, it has a wonderful sense of heart."
However, what she said next gave me doubts again. "We’ve coined a new phrase, and it’s called Destination Entertainment and what that means is people will be coming through our front doors again and again and again to see the wonderful shows that we do."
Hey Ms. Hamburger -- guess what? Disneyland used to provide paying guests with shows that accomplished that. Well, you probably don't know that because you've only worked here since 2000. In fact, way back in 1992, the shows were the reason I originally bought an annual pass. The shows were that good. And they were plentiful. And it wasn't just the shows that were good; there were also terrific parades, a daytime parade and a nighttime parade. They were all things I never tired of seeing because the quality was so outstanding. They were things that I could enjoy with my two young daughters and not be a bored mommy while the kiddies watched something I found contrived and condescending. Disneyland had destination entertainment -- it just didn't label it; the park just simply provided it and in plentiful quantities.
That nagging doubt I was feeling grew as Ms. Hamburger described the Hyperion Theatre's qualities as a state-of-the-art theater. Don't most state-of-the-art theatres also include restrooms for the patrons?
"Disney’s Aladdin – Live On Stage, is a Broadway-caliber show," she continued. "It’s really a new form of entertainment that’s only 40 minutes long, yet it gives you everything that Broadway does." A 40-minute show in a theatre without restrooms where you are not allowed back in once you exit? That kind of sounds like a bad idea.
What she said next however, really bothered me:
I think that the above statement is really selling the audience short. Maybe not everyone who sets foot inside a Disney theme park has seen a play on Broadway, but I bet a good many of them have seen live theater. I really believe a good portion of the folks who come to Disney theme parks are a pretty sophisticated lot who aren't being given credit where credit is due.
I also think her math is a little off. Yes, it can be expensive to see live theatre. But it's also very expensive to visit a theme park. And let's face it: the food at Disney parks isn't exactly cheap. In all likelihood, a family does not come to Disneyland or California Adventure for just a show, they probably will be spending a whole day at the parks. That means, lunch and dinner, maybe even breakfast, plus drinks, possibly a snack, and you know everyone always wants a souvenir.
In the long run, it could cost way more than taking the family to see a show. And, I don't know about your experiences, but when I took my young daughters to see the live version of Peter Pan in the theater, the last thing they did was fall asleep. Quite the opposite, they couldn't stop singing and pretending they could fly. Live theater for a young child, given the right show, can be a thrilling and life-changing experience. If they're falling asleep, then you haven't done your job as a parent in picking the correct show for your child to see.
And one more thing before I continue: Once upon a time, we had a Broadway-caliber show at Disneyland. In fact, the show we had was the springboard for a show that is currently running on Broadway. It was very popular. Lots of people came to see it. Lots of people are probably sad that it's gone. Heck, lots of people would probably love to have it back, it was terrifically entertaining. It featured very talented performers and special effects, and had a great script that never treated its audience in a condescending manner. Parent and child alike enjoyed the show.
It was called Beauty and the Beast.
While it may appear that Ms. Hamburger spent the entire press conference trying to convince us that she was out to save Disney Entertainment, she did actually have a few interesting things to tell. Through the magic of a live satellite hook-up (shown below), we were introduced Francesca Zambello and Lynn Taylor-Corbett, the director and choreographer respectively of "Disney’s Aladdin – Live On Stage."
Ms. Zambello is a respected director of both musical theater and opera productions around the world. And although she has been referred to as controversial, it became clear as she spoke to the members of the press, that she feels a real passion for her work. When asked about her approach to the characters in the story of Aladdin, she said, "I think like all theater you have to focus on the story, and storytelling is our number-one objective. And luckily, here we have characters who have real heart and soul."
Describing the cast, Ms. Zambello said, "[Aladdin, Jasmine, the Blue Genie, and the Sultan] are backed up by a cast of 32 other chorus, ensemble, and soloists. So we have quite a full-sized show." Lush and strong, with rapid scene shifts using 18 different locations and 250 costumes, Ms. Zambello explained how the show would have a 19th Century look combined with state-of-the-art technology for an eye-popping spectacle.
Lynn Taylor-Corbett, the choreographer for both "Swing" and the Tony-winning Best Musical "Titanic," spoke of researching Mid-Eastern dance and finding cues in Alan Menken's score. Her visions include Keystone Cops, jazz tap, and Vegas-like numbers.
The real treat of the press conference came when the two ladies had finished their presentation. In the room a grand piano sat idly by, but not for long. We were introduced to composer Alan Menken, who sat down at the piano, joked about being a rabid Yankee fan in Anaheim Angel territory and proceeded to play a medley of his tunes. Ah, Dear Readers, how I wish you could have heard it. Would that I could give you that pleasure with my mere words. If that wasn't a wonderful enough treat, he then played a snippet of the new song he has written just for "Disney's Aladdin – Live On Stage." Jasmine will have a new song that takes place when she is stuck inside her father's palace, yearning to be free.
Mr. Menken also talked about how excited he was to be able to work on "Aladdin" again. Turning the animated feature into a live show was something he'd been after Disney for years to do. When asked about the time constraints of a 40-minute theme-park show, he explained that the craft was the determinant, not the length. Asked about bringing theatre into a theme park, he reminded us that "Beauty and the Beast" brought people into theme parks.
I left the conference feeling just a little excited. Maybe we will have a good show once again. Having Alan Menken involved gives me hope. I want "Disney's Aladdin – Live On Stage" to be as good as it sounds. I want a show I can come to and enjoy as I once did so long ago.
Lord knows, "Mickey's Detective School" doesn't fit that bill.
Will it flop or will it go? I guess we'll all find out on Monday December 9, 2002. I'll be there. How 'bout you?
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