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Broadway’s ‘Aladdin’ used to be an entirely different show

Upon celebrating its 10th anniversary, producers Thomas Schumacher and Anne Quart, director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw and librettist Chad Beguelin detail the overhaul between the out-of-town and Main Stem productions that they credit with making the musical a long-running success.

(Center) Michael James Scott as the Genie, Michael Maliakel as Aladdin and the company of “Aladdin” on Broadway (Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Disney Theatrical Group didn’t set its sights on Broadway for “Aladdin.” Despite the production company’s previous successes with “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” — to name a few — Disney initially revisited the story about a “street rat,” his magical Genie best friend and a strong-minded princess in the 2000s purely for licensing purposes.

Schools and amateur theaters kept requesting a two-act version of “Aladdin,” so Disney Theatrical Group (DTG) decided to oblige. Around 2009-2010, the company produced a New York reading of this two-act to be licensed. “In the middle of that, everybody kind of looked at each other and went, why are we not thinking about this differently — in a more commercial way?,” recalled Anne Quart, DTG executive vice president of producing and development who was the associate producer on “Aladdin” at the time.

The team shifted gears entirely. They hired director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who had just won a Tony Award for his direction of “The Book of Mormon,” to pilot a production at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle. “It was super low-tech,” said Quart. “Literally, the carpet was a mattress on a stick.” Seattle served as a testing ground, and proved that audiences wanted to see a fully staged “Aladdin” musical.

The team devised a new plan: They would mount “Aladdin” out of town in Toronto before debuting the musical on Broadway. But for Toronto audiences and critics alike, the show wasn’t working. 

“It’s not a lie to say the first 30 minutes was dead quiet in the theater,” said Quart. “They couldn’t have cared less. Then the Genie arrived in ‘Friend Like Me,’ and suddenly they were with us. But we had a 30-minute problem.”

“And problems within the problem,” added Thomas Schumacher, chief creative officer of DTG. 

What happened next is the kind of overhaul that has become rarer between a show’s pre-Broadway out-of-town engagement and its Main Stem premiere. But, according to this quartet of creatives, it saved the show. Here, Schumacher, Quart, Nicholaw and Chad Beguelin outline five crucial elements they changed for Broadway that they say led to “Aladdin”’s 10th anniversary on March 20, 2024.

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