Beyond the Broadway spectacle, the power of ‘Aladdin’ is in its story and songs

One lamp. Three wishes. The magic of Disney’s “Aladdin” transpires because of some pretty simple numbers.

Then there are the numbers from the Broadway version: 84 illusions and effects powered by 111 moving lights, 38 tons of flying scenery, 337 costumes and 2,039 fabrics from Morocco, Turkey, India, Uzbekistan, China, Tahiti, Japan, Guatemala, Mexico, France, Italy, England and Germany.

Disney’s “Aladdin,” the popular Broadway musical, is coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center for an extended run — Oct. 2 to Oct. 26. It’s a big show with a serious pedigree, famous for its elaborate showcases of special effects, costuming and stagecraft. The musical premiered in 2011, migrated to Broadway in 2014, and has been touring around the world ever since.

The stage musical is just one of several modern iterations of the “Aladdin’ story, originally based on an Arabic folktale from “One Thousand and One Nights.” The original Disney animated film, released in 1992, was the highest-grossing animated film of all time until it was surpassed by “The Lion King.”

A live-action remake from director Guy Ritchie hit theaters in May, with Will Smith as Genie. In July, the new movie surpassed $1 billion at the worldwide box office. The movie has spun off sequels, TV adaptations, albums and even video games. In fact, the franchise as a whole has earned the fabled EGOT, meaning it has won the four biggest show business awards — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Disney Theatrical Productions “Aladdin” comes to Durham Performing Arts Center, Here, the company performs to “Arabian Nights.” Deen van Meer

The ‘Aladdin’ story

Clearly, “Aladdin” is less a folk tale these days, and more of an industry. But according to Chad Beguelin, lyricist and book writer for the Broadway version, it all comes back to the story.

“It’s turned into something where it’s not just for kids,” Beguelin said, calling from New York City in advance of the show’s North Carolina run. “It’s a date show, a family show. We’ve seen every age come out for this. The themes, the spectacle – it’s just an audience-pleaser no matter who you are.”

Beguelin, a veteran of the Broadway scene, is a four-time Tony award nominee. Previous productions include “The Wedding Singer” and “Elf” the musical. He also wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book for the Broadway show “The Prom,” starring Raleigh native and Meredith College alum Beth Leavel.

Story is Beguelin’s specialty. As creator of the musical’s book, he’s in charge of transposing the essential narrative spirit of “Aladdin” into the language of musical theater.

“So basically the book is story structure — all the story dialogue, shaping the scenes, all the dramatic content that’s in a show,” he said. “Then lyrics, of course, are all the words in the songs — all the sung words.”

For those hoping to revisit musical moments from the films, don’t worry: The musical includes the famous numbers “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World,” plus a half-dozen new songs written for the stage version.

James Monroe Iglehart, center, as the genie, and the cast of “Aladdin” perform at the Tony Awards in New York in 2014. The touring company is coming to Charlotte in September. Evan Agostini Invision/AP

Broadway spectacle

By all accounts, the touring “Aladdin” is a state-of-the-art showcase of Broadway spectacle. Those numbers up top are just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a bonus trivia item: Each of the gold finale costumes in the showcase number “Friend Like Me” has 8,644 Swarovski crystals – sequins, in layman’s terms.

“On a pure showbiz level, ‘Friend Like Me’ is just incredible,” Beguelin said. “It literally stops the show. The actors have to hold their pose forever because the audience goes completely insane. It’s got fireworks, tap dancing, more sequins that you can possibly imagine. It’s nuts.”

But all the spectacle in the world can’t move an audience if the story doesn’t hold, Beguelin said. It’s the story and the themes, threaded within the lyrics and dialogue, that ultimately power the emotional impact of it all.

“And it’s really pretty simple,” Beguelin said. “The biggest theme of ‘Aladdin’ is to just be yourself. Aladdin gets these three wishes and at first he tries to become something he’s not. He becomes this rich arrogant prince and everything falls apart.”

“It’s not until the end, when he gives his wish away and does something noble, that all his dreams come true. I think that’s a theme that’s so important, especially for kids.”

Beguelin said that when taking in a ginormous spectacle like “Aladdin,” it can enhance the experience to be mindful of the story itself as it unfolds. It’s something he’s been attuned to since he first started working in theater in high school.

“One of the things I was obsessed with was Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins,’ which was out when I was a kid,” he said. “It was the first time I’d really listened to lyrics and realized that they were actually telling a story or revealing something about a character. From an early age, I was attuned to how magical that was.”

So keep that in your back pocket if you’re going to “Aladdin” in the weeks ahead.

“The themes and the ideas in the story, they’re so powerful,” Beguelin said. “It’s the emotional side that always gets me is at the end.”


What: Disney’s “Aladdin”

When: Oct. 2-26, times vary

Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham.

Cost: Starting at $30

Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com

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