Chicago is unquestionably Disney's kind of theater town.
With the April 11 North American touring launch of "Aladdin" at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, Disney is once again showing love for the Windy City. And the feeling is mutual, since ticket demand has prompted Disney to extend the run of its 2014 Broadway hit to Sept. 10.
"Aladdin"Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Schedule varies, but largely 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (matinees begin April 26), 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday (also Tuesday on April 11 and 18 and then from July 11), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (evening shows end July 9); runs from April 11 through Sept. 10
"Our shows have done very well in Chicago," said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group at a recent news conference. "Whether it was the pre-Broadway tryout of 'Aida,' or whether it was launching tours like 'Lion King,' 'Mary Poppins' or 'High School Musical.' The tour of 'Newsies' actually broke box office records."
Originally, Disney did not aim "Aladdin" for Broadway. After the 1992 animated film became a blockbuster, there was a popular Disney theme park stage version helmed by opera director Francesca Zambello. A licensed one-act children's theater version of "Aladdin" followed, which appeared locally at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2009 and at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire in 2011.
But audience demand was so strong for a fully fleshed-out "Aladdin" that Schumacher gave the go-ahead to develop a two-act Broadway version. Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw ("The Book of Mormon," "Something Rotten!") was brought aboard to helm the production, which had two high-profile (and drastically revamped) pre-Broadway runs in Seattle and Toronto.
Six songs cut from the film were put back into the stage show, only to have three cut out again.
To augment original "Aladdin" songs like "A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me" written by composer Alan Menken with respective lyricists Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman, playwright and lyricist Chad Beguelin ("The Wedding Singer") was brought aboard for new material. Beguelin also reintroduced cut characters like Aladdin's street urchin buddies Babkak, Omar and Kassim, while steering the Genie back toward a Cab Calloway-type of entertainer rather than being the multivoiced chameleon as voiced by the late Robin Williams.
Actor Anthony Murphy makes his touring debut playing the Genie, and he knows he has big shoes to fill since Broadway actor James Monroe Iglehart won a Tony Award in the role.
"Actually, one of the things that Disney has wanted is for us to create our own characters," Murphy said. "They haven't asked me to imitate Robin or James. It's always, 'We want to see what Anthony Murphy brings to the Genie.'"
Chicago actor Jonathan Weir plays the evil Jafar, the role Broadway actor Jonathan Freeman voiced in the 1992 film and played onstage as well.
"They've cast people who are individuals and they're not just asking us to be cookie-cutter in remounting this," Weir said. "As an actor, that gives us a sense of ownership."
Also attached is the original title star Adam Jacobs, who has been with "Aladdin" since Seattle. Elgin native Courtney Reed, who played Jasmine on Broadway, won't be touring.
"I do feel a little bit like a leader in this go-round," said Jacobs, who is excited to be hitting the road with his wife and 3-year-old twin sons. "It's really exciting for me to be reinvigorated with the energy of a new cast and rediscovering everything with them."