While Will Smith has put “Aladdin” back on millions of people’s minds this summer, playing the musically, comical Genie of the Lamp in the live-action movie of the 1992 animated fave, the national tour of the Broadway version of the show proves that there’s plenty of love to go around for the title.
Under the direction of Casey Nicholaw, the theatrical version features music by Tony Award and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, lyrics by two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman, three-time Tony Award and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice and six-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin, with a book by Beguelin.
Disney’s “Aladdin” musical is currently playing the Kennedy Center through Sept. 7.
In the touring production, Clinton Greenspan and Kaena Kekoa get to ride the magic carpet as lovebirds Aladdin and Jasmine, while Major Attaway plays everyone’s favorite blue genie.
Jonathan Weir plays the evil Jafar, and he’s no stranger to playing the villain. He’s also portrayed Scar in Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway.
“It’s an iconic role and it’s awesome and wonderful to play a character with such an opposing view of everyone else on stage,” Weir said. “It’s good to be bad. You get to come in, and try to get what you want and set the story on another course. It’s great fun. Not that I’m a horrible person, but it’s nice to get that out on stage every night.”
When he took the part, he was encouraged to make the role his own and not just mimic what was done in the original animated feature or on Broadway.
“The pitfall of playing a character like this is to snarl and twirl your mustache versus finding where the humor of this character lies—what does he find amusing and how does that filter through his perspective and objectives,” Weir said. “That’s how Jafar becomes multifaceted, vs. just playing one note.”
Naturally, the musical features all the hit songs from the movie, including “A Whole New World,” “Prince Ali” and “Friend Like Me,” but it also has several tunes that are different than its source material most people know.
There are also some changes in characters. Gone are Abu the monkey and Rajah the tiger, with trios of actors serving as friends and confidents to Aladdin and Jasmine in their place; and Iago the parrot is now a hilarious human sidekick to Jafar.
“Reggie DeLeon plays Iago and we originated the roles together in Chicago, and we have amazing chemistry and it’s a joy to play with him every night on stage,” Weir said.
With the movie setting box office records this summer, one might think the “Aladdin” market might be a bit oversaturated, but Weir doesn’t believe that has impacted people coming to see the touring show.
“When I hear the audience’s responses nightly, and I’m in my third year of doing this now, I hear the love for this show,” he said. “There are things different about this version and people are gravitating towards it. If the movie helps get people into seeing live theater, I am all for it.”
At its heart, “Aladdin” is about a young man who is an orphan, trying to make his parents proud, and navigating his way in the world anyway he can. The story turns magical when he rubs the lamp and out pops the Genie ready to give him three wishes, and Aladdin uses them to help him win the heart of Princess Jasmine.
“It’s a story that’s universal for kids or adults. We have great appeal among millennials because this was their movie growing up and our audiences are full of people of all ages,” Weir said. “It gets such a cross-section of families and people dating, and often we hear that it’s the first time that someone has seen a theatrical show live—and not just kids, but adults too.”