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Aladdin: Chad Beguelin Interview

17 July 2016 | Tom Faber

The Aladdin stage musical has just arrived in London after a smash season on Broadway. It’s a smooth magic carpet ride through song and spectacle, but the adaptation of a classic Disney film wasn’t easy. We reached out to Chad Beguelin, the man who wrote the musical book, previously responsible for Broadway hits like Elf and The Wedding Singer. We chatted about adapting Disney genius, the ways of the stage and babaganoush.

London Calling: Tell me about how you got involved in the Aladdin musical.
Chad Beguelin:Disney was looking at some of their titles to have writers create scripts for them so they could be licensed out. I was shown a list of titles and Aladdin was on the list. It didn’t start aiming for Broadway but we did a quick reading of it for [Disney’s Theatrical President] Thomas Schumacher who said, “I had a really good time, this changes everything.” We were in a conference room five minutes later and suddenly the show was headed for Broadway.
 
LC: When you were working on the book did you stay quite close to the script for the movie?
CB: Originally I did a draft very close to the movie. Then I went to meet [original Aladdin composer] Alan Menken. His idea was that if we were going to do Aladdin then he wanted to include the songs that he and Howard Ashman wrote for the film that ended up on the cutting room floor. My job was to make the material that people didn’t know mesh with the songs they know and love.
 
LC: Weren’t some of Howard Ashman’s original ideas for the film very different to how it eventually turned out?
CB: He had done a treatment that was very different from the final film. The amazing thing about Alan – and it shows his love for Howard – he had saved every single piece of paper. He brought out all these files with old Xerox copies of Howard’s original treatment which had the idea that the genie would be a Cab Calloway-type character. It was much more of a road movie, and a lot of those ideas inspired this version.
 
Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre. Dean John-Wilson (Aladdin) and Jade Ewen (Jasmine). Photo Deen van Meer, © Disney
 
LC: Part of the appeal of classic Disney is the fusion of childlike wonder with adult jokes which can make it fun for older people watching. Did that translate for the musical version?
CB: Absolutely. It’s been so amazing to see these audiences. Of course it’s family-friendly but we’re seeing a lot of adults, people in their 20s and 30s, people on dates. That was always the goal, to appeal to that demographic of people who grew up with the film. We wanted to make sure they had a great time.
LC: Was that a challenge for you as well, to appeal to people who have never seen the film and those who adore it?
CB: Yeah it’s always the tightrope that you have to walk. You want to make sure the die-hard fans get everything they want but you don’t want to recreate what they’ve seen before.
LC: You wrote a play as well, Harbour. How is it different writing a book for a musical or the dialogue for a straight play?
CB: It’s much lonelier writing a play. There are fewer places to hide, fewer collaborators. In a musical you have so many people to bounce ideas off of that it feels a bit safer.
 
LC: Aladdin has been running for a few years now. Does the show change when it moves location?
CB: Absolutely, for each international production. Here in London we did a whole pass of the script for things that might have been lost in translation. The funny thing is we got to the first rehearsal and the cast said, “no no no, we’re going back to the original. This is too British.” It was great that we could trust them and know what would land and what wouldn’t.
 
LC: I’m sure with television and music, British young people would get most of the American references.
CB: They were not having my fish and chips joke.
 
LC: What was the joke?
CB: It was one of the prizes Genie gives away. The original joke is about babaganoush and we swapped it for fish and chips. It went down terribly, we got rid of it immediately. Back to babaganoush.
 
Aladdin is at the Prince Edward Theatre now. Book tickets online.
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