Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Interview: Aladdin's Chad Beguelin

Chad Beguelin wrote the book and additional lyrics for Disney’s musical adaptation of Aladdin. Having opened on Broadway in 2014, last month Aladdin crossed the pond and began its West End run at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Aladdin features songs from the classic 1992 animated film as well as some of the cut songs Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote for the film. In addition there is some new music by Alan Menken and Chad. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the London cast is led by Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin, Jade Ewen as Jasmine and Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie.

Chad wrote lyrics and book for The Wedding Singer which will embark on a new UK tour next year; he also wrote lyrics for Elf The Musical which received its West End premiere last Christmas. He recently collaborated with Bob Martin and Jerry Mitchell on new musical Gotta Dance which premiered in Chicago last December and is due to open on Broadway later this year. His play Harbor recently premiered off-Broadway at Primary Stages. Chad also wrote the book and lyrics for Judas & Me, The Rhythm Club and Wicked City. 

I recently spoke to Chad about adapting Aladdin for the West End, how he originally came to be involved with the project and what it has been like to work alongside such an incredible creative team…

London audiences are going crazy for Aladdin! What’s it like to see the show having such an incredible response over here?
It’s amazing! When we first did the show on Broadway we went through so many changes – it was trial and error. We’ve definitely been blessed with an amazing cast here in London, it’s great to see that people are embracing it. It’s just proof that London audiences are really full of smart people.

I love that there are a few British references slotted in, how much did you re-work the script for the West End?
The funny thing is that initially we changed a lot of the references we were worried might not translate, but when we got into rehearsal the cast were like “No, no… we’ve got to do the original joke here – the audiences will get it.” So we started out being overly cautious, but the cast were amazing and helped us translate what would work over here and what wouldn’t.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of your Aladdin journey. How did you initially take on the project? 
Well when it started out it wasn’t Broadway-bound. I was brought in and given a list of titles that Disney wanted to have writers create scripts for so they could licence them out, never with Broadway being the goal. When I saw Aladdin was on the list I immediately said “that’s the one I want to do” because I love the movie – it’s my favourite film and score. I was just happy to be working on it in that small way. 

Then we did a reading for Thomas Schumacher (president of Disney Theatrical Group) and he said, “I had an amazing time today – this changes everything”. The next thing we knew – within minutes – we were in a boardroom and it became clear the show was going to have a much bigger life than originally intended. 

And you worked on the show for a long time before getting to Broadway – you did a few out-of-town tryouts.
One of the things that makes this show so special is that Alan Menken really wanted us to try as hard as we could to get as many songs that were cut from the film back into the show so they would have a life again. I’m a huge Howard Ashman fan, so I’m happy and thrilled at any opportunity to rediscover any of his lyrics. The trick of that was how to incorporate them and make them feel organic to the plot and like they were pushing the story forward. 

We didn’t want it to feel like a jigsaw puzzle that had just been thrown together. How we used those songs kept developing along the way. I also got the privilege to write four new songs with Alan. We had to bring together the Aladdin that the world knew with the Aladdin that Howard and Alan had originally created.

Exactly, it stays very true to the film but there are a few surprises along the way.
Yes – that was always the goal. We didn’t want to short-change people who are diehard fans of the film, but we also didn’t want to put a carbon copy of the movie on stage. That’s the brilliance of Casey Nicholaw (director/choreographer) who knew exactly how to shape the show. It’s really an old fashioned musical comedy, but if you love the film – which is more of an action-adventure – you also get that aspect too. 

The entire creative team is incredible – what is the atmosphere like amongst you all?
Well at first it was pretty intimidating because Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are my heroes. It was a little scary when I went to meet Alan – you walk in and there’s every award under the sun sitting on his piano. It was mind blowing. He’s such a warm guy and so collaborative that the intimidation went very quickly. I think the best thing about this group is that because they’re all such great artists, they know the best idea wins so there’s never any fighting for somebody’s idea to be taken further. We always had very open discussions, it was trial and error from the beginning. 

How involved do you tend to be for rehearsals and previews?
Well for the Broadway production I was obviously there every single day and we were making changes like crazy. For this production I was there for the first few rehearsals. We went over the script and looked at what we thought might not work. I was here for some of the preview period to make sure things were still working and landing. 

What do you think about the London cast? I like that they’ve done their own thing with the roles.
It’s really exciting to see this cast because they bring such great personality. It feels like a brand new show because they’re so amazing and different in such surprising and fun ways. Dean (John Wilson) has got a little swag to him which makes his Aladdin fun – I love that up against Jade (Ewen) because her Jasmine doesn’t take any of it for a second. It’s a great dynamic. Of course Trevor (Dion Nicholas, Genie) is amazing and just a joy to watch and even more fun to work with.

When different projects come in your direction, what makes one stand out for you? What gets you excited about working on a show?
Well, with Aladdin I think what appealed to me was the journey Aladdin goes on. At the beginning he has this impossible, crazy dream and then he takes a wrong turn and becomes somebody he isn’t. I love that message – in the end he finally does the right thing and all his dreams come true. I also like it when you can have a lot of fun – the bromance between Genie and Aladdin is great fun to watch. 

So if I said, “Chad I’ve won the lottery and have billions of dollars to produce a show for you to work on”, what would you choose?
Well I’m working on a show right now, also with Casey, called The Prom which I’m very excited about. It sort of follows a girl who wants to take another girl to the high school prom. It’s got a message to it, but obviously because it’s Casey it has also got a lot of humour and splashy dance numbers. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins

Disney's Aladdin is booking at the Prince Edward Theatre until 11th February 2017.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3: Deen van Meer ® Disney

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