Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Aladdin Goes Hollywood

I will always associate Aladdin with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood—both the state of mind and the tawdry but exciting street of that name. Back in 1992 I took my kids to the historic El Capitan, the gorgeously-restored 1926 movie palace at the heart of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, to see Disney’s animated musical extravaganza. It was preceded by a brief stage show, a reminder of the way movies used to debut in the early days. Then the film itself came on, and we were all blown away by the music, the visuals, the sheer inventiveness, and the rambunctious high spirits of this production. Robin Williams’ shape-shifting genie was of course the comic heart of the film: Genie was a role he was born to play. But everything on screen blended together in a way that was totally magical. Afterwards, we all felt so good that we found ourselves singing and dancing under that brightly lit marquee on Hollywood Blvd., which I’m sure had the local street people scratching their heads. 

Flash forward to this past weekend. In 2014, the Disney version of Aladdin became a Broadway musical, capitalizing on Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s original lyrics and Alan Menken’s spritely score It was nominated for 5 Tony awards, including Best Musical, and the delightful James Monroe Iglehart nabbed a Tony for the featured role of Genie. (No one, of course, can hope to duplicate Robin Williams’ manic appeal, but the stage version of this role adds a jazzy Cab Calloway-style hipness that’s hard to resist.)  Aladdin is still wowing Broadway tourists, but a full-scale touring production has recently made its home in another movie palace, this one at the fabled intersection of Hollywood and Vine. The Pantages, built in 1930, to house vaudeville acts in addition to first-run motion pictures, is a masterpiece of art deco ornamentation. It’s full of chandeliers, statuary, and cunningly inlaid tile. Look up and you’ll find the ceiling is an intricate web of gilt carving, set against a blue-lit artificial sky that seems made for a magic carpet ride.  

 Once upon a time, the Pantages was the site for the annual Academy Awards ceremony, and it’s easy to feel like a movie star when you’re ushered in. The six-year-old with me was attending his first big theatrical production, and his eyes were bright with wonder. He laughed and clapped, oohed and aahed when the stage was briefly lit up by fireworks, and fortunately didn’t squirm in his seat enough to make other theatregoers sea-sick. As for me, I too was charmed. It was fascinating to see what changes needed to be made to put an animated cartoon on stage. Gone were such lively Disney-esque sidekicks as a sinister parrot, a mischievous monkey, a cuddly tiger, and a personality-plus magic carpet. Instead, Aladdin got three human buddies, Jasmine (in this me-too era) was more overtly feminist, and elaborate costume transmogrifications were part of the stage razzle-dazzle. In tribute to our Hollywood locale, Genie added a Wakandan salute to his bag of tricks, and “accidentally” pulled an Oscar statuette from his pocket instead of a magic lamp. 

After the show we strolled down Hollywood Blvd., only to discover crowds milling around an elaborate grungy “vertical trailer park.” This was a come-on for a a pop-up attraction designed to generate interest in the new Spielberg futuristic thriller, Ready Player One, which opens March 29. We couldn’t resist queuing up to tour a maze complete with flashing lights and brain-teasers. The look was dystopian, quite a contrast to the lavish exotica favored by Hollywood of old.

Boy with lamp
Vertical trailer park



  1. Great post! I wouldn't mind having a lamp like that ...

  2. Me too. Especially if James Monroe Iglehart popped out of it!