Fasten your seat-belts! We are about to take a Magic Carpet ride to Agrabah – I mean, Broadway!
One of my favorite types of dates with my husband is one that involves a trip into New York City to see a spectacular show. There are so many on my proverbial bucket list to see, but Disney’s Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical has been at the top of the list for what seems like forever. So, imagine the surprise when I opened my last gift at Christmas to find an ornament of the world-renowned Genie. This was my husband’s creative way of saying, “You’re going to see Aladdin!!”
We rose early on a Saturday morning towards the end of January to catch the train into the City. The kids were still tucked in bed and my mother was resting downstairs as we prepared for our departure. When we arrived at Grand Central Station, we had approximately two hours to grab something to eat, see some sights and make our way to The Walt Disney Company owned (1993, as part of the 42nd Street Development Project) New Amsterdam Theater. The weather wasn’t so bad – a little chill, just enough for a regular winter coat…very unusual for this time of year in the Northeast. To save time, we took the subway down to Time Square and scouted for a place to eat. I’ll be honest – the eatery we chose was not one I would choose again. It was unimpressive, the service just mediocre and the food was a little disappointing. We will do better next time.
With our disappointing lunch digesting, we made our way over to the theater, hoping the afternoon would improve For having only been to the City twice prior, I was pretty shocked at how well I knew where things were. We made it just as they were opening the doors. We scanned through and my husband’s first job was to find someone who knew about the Chase Visa promotion through which my hubby had purchased the tickets.
Chase has these periodic promotions for Disney Visa holders that grant special pricing, special seating and fun souvenirs. Unfortunately, no one at the theater was quite familiar with this particular promotion. Nonetheless, just like any Disney Cast Member should, a fantastic gentleman, who normally assisted Guests with Special Needs (goodness, I wish I could remember his name), found another Cast Member (Tanya, seating manager), who lead us right back to the Box Office. In the end, everything worked out and we had our drink tickets, free lanyards, special Disney pins (no pin-trading these special souvenirs!) and a commemorative portrait of the Genie. Now, it was time for the show!
Can you believe the seats my husband purchased???
I was in shock. It was a dream come true and, as I told all my friends that day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I was close enough to see the sweat beads form on James Monroe Iglehart’s brow! The New Amsterdam Theater is beautiful and its art nouveau style exquisite; however, the seats are a bit tight. Fortunately, I had a young girl sitting next to me, so I was lucky to have a little elbow room. It didn’t matter, though – I was about ready to fasten my seat-belt for a Magic Carpet ride that took me from New York City to the fictional City of Agrabah!
The lights dimmed….the overture began….and within minutes, the curtain went up to reveal James Monroe Iglehart standing center stage…right before me….literally! He was so close, I could see the individual pieces of glitter on his forehead, shimmering in the stage lights. The energy was immediate!
This particular performance featured most of the original cast members, including James Monroe Iglehart (Genie), Courtney Reed (Jasmine), John Freeman (Jafar) and Don Darryl Rivera (Iago), among others. Two understudies took the stage during this matinee show, one of them being Rodney Ingram (Aladdin). Rodney was standing in for Adam Jacobs, who was reported to be on vacation. The other understudy was standing in for Clifton Davis (known for his role in the TV show, Amen), who normally plays the role of the Sultan. In any case, unless you were there to specifically see one of those actors, you would have never known a primary lead was missing. Every performance was spot-on and the interaction near flawless. The energy emanating from everyone was electric. I particularly enjoyed following the ensemble through the scenes and was fascinated by how they transitioned roles effortlessly. There were a few set glitches here and there; however, there was nothing that would have been obvious to anyone outside the first few rows…or who wasn’t looking for them. For instance, a member of the ensemble in the role of a merchant in the marketplace was unable to get his merchandise cart off stage in a timely fashion and found himself road-blocked, in the dark, by one of the incoming set pieces. He had been cornered near the edge of the stage, so anyone watching likely feared his falling off. I will say, he was quite professional and did a fantastic job maneuvering himself out of a sticky situation. I would have expected no less.
The voices and tones were spectacular, the dancing and stage movement motivating and the acting very smooth and fluid. Courtney’s (Jasmine) and Rodney’s (Aladdin) voices harmonized beautifully. At times, I felt I had been listening to the actual movie soundtrack. Rodney held his own as the lead and was fun to watch on stage. His smile was so big and bright and his mother has every right to be “proud of her boy.” James (Genie) was exactly what I envisioned his character to be and he stayed quite true to form. He had us feeling the energy, excitement and enthusiasm throughout the entire performance. My only criticism would be that I felt there were times he may have spoken a little too quickly, too fast for the audience to understand what he was saying. It was as if he had had one too many energy drinks before the curtain went up. At the same time, Robin Williams himself was prone to speaking quickly, so perhaps James was simply channeling his inner “Robin.” Still, seeing Tony-award winning James Monroe Iglehart in person on that stage was a dream come true for this Disney-loving theater buff.
Of course, as I mentioned before, every performance was spectacular – from each member of the talented ensemble to the three amigos taking the place of the cartoon Abu to the leads. In particular, I was drawn to the role of Iago, played by Don Darryl Rivera. Instead of a talking parrot, the stage adaptation cast Iago as a dastardly, vertically challenged human sidekick to Jafar (who I did not realize is played by the actor who provided the actual voice for the movie version of the character!). Don was brilliant and had me mesmerized with his wit. I was laughing hysterically anytime he provided comic relief. He was loud, quick, witty and hilarious ~ a gem in my book. His evil laugh was comparable to Jafar’s and complemented the evil that oozed out of his mentor’s voice. He was the perfect subservient stooge that had me in stitches! John Freeman, himself, was, of course, spectacularly evil and conniving. He was sinister and his laugh bellowed beautifully. He was a treat to watch glide around the stage. Why would I expect anything less than his having perfected that role? Right?
Once the performance was over, we made a mad dash to the infamous Stage Door. I may not have been able to score backstage passes, but I was determined to see whom I could meet. The Stage Door is known to be the place where theater-goers can linger and meet whatever performers may come to sign autographs and pose for selfies. I’ll admit, I was quite jealous of the number of guests we saw enter the giant purple door for a special meet-and-greet, but I was also just grateful to have been there. No, seriously – I was! This had been a tremendous gift so far…and it was only about to get better!
The stars are known to come out one by one….giving about twenty minutes in between to subdue chaos, perhaps, and to allow for private interaction. First to come out was Don Darryl Rivera, who, as noted above, played Iago. He was absolutely sweet and personable and he posed for pictures, signed autographs and chatted a bit with some of us waiting there in the chilly temperatures. Following Don was Rodney Ingram, who held the role of Aladdin during this performance. His smile was captivating and so BRIGHT! He had a twinkle in his eye and he was an absolutely kind-hearted gentleman as he made his way down the line. The girls standing next to us were almost in atrial flutter as he approached, particularly when they witnessed him take an extra moment to pose for a photo with a very special Guest who had attended the performance. After Rodney’s visit with us came the most special moment for me of the trip. The door opened and out came…Tony-award winning James Monroe Iglehart!
This is where something very special happened for me. As noted way in the beginning of this piece, I unwrapped a very special gift at Christmas. My husband had purchased a Hallmark ornament of the Genie and, as I unboxed it and held it in my hands, my husband announced that he had already purchased two tickets to see Aladdin: the Hit Musical on Broadway! It was at that moment I began to dream of how I was going to get James Monroe Iglehart to sign that ornament! As James approached, I nervously asked if he would be willing to sign two things for me. – the piece of paper I was having everyone sign….and the ornament. He was more than willing to oblige!! We even struck up a very small conversation about a mutual friend (shout out to Matt!) and grabbed a photo to document the occasion. That is when the biggest, gleaming smile lit up on my face – and never left! I think seeing that made my husband smile even more, as well. Of course, while I may have been gleaming from my interaction with James, it was still more than a pleasure to meet our last star of the day, the stunningly gorgeous Jasmine, played by Courtney Reed. She, too, graced us with her beautiful smile and personality. She was so down to earth, real and a sweetheart. It simply made the trip just that much better to cap the day off with her.
The sets were brilliant and exquisitely designed. The theater was absolutely gorgeous. The actors, from lead to ensemble, were magnificent and the music was contagious. Disney Productions never does something mediocre, nor does it squander on artistry or show. The four keys to the Kingdom (safety, courtesy, show and efficiency) are even evident on the stages outside of Florida and California and this just fosters my love and passion for anything Disney even more. I highly recommend taking the time and opportunity to see this production. You will not leave dissatisfied, nor will you walk away without a spring in your step and a song in your heart! For those who cannot steal away to New York City to see such a production – GREAT NEWS! Aladdin: The Hit Broadway Musical begins its national tour in 2017!
So – perhaps my piece is the equivalent of being a “street rat” writer in comparison to some of the other bloggers out there. That’s okay. It takes time to develop a style and audience and I will continue to dream big. This is a whole new world for me and I am just one person with a heart full of wishes, looking forward to the infinite possibilities!
Until the next step ~ T