With the opening on Thursday of "Aladdin" at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, Disney marks its 20th anniversary on Broadway. Whether that's a cause for celebration or consternation depends on how you view the company's success at making family-friendly blockbusters the norm in the theater world.
The new musical, based on the Oscar-winning 1992 animated movie about a street urchin who falls in love with a princess, is the company's latest attempt to breathe new life into a profitable title and in the process, score an enduring audience hit along the lines of "The Lion King."
"Aladdin" has had a long road to Broadway. The show had a tryout run at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in 2011. Earlier this year, the show ran in Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. (A live, 45-minute "Aladdin" show has been running at Disneyland for years.)
The Broadway production, directed by the "The Book of Mormon" veteran Casey Nicholaw, features some of the movie's original songs, which were written by Howard Ashman, Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Reports have stated that the projected cost of the Broadway production will be between $12 million and $15 million.
Disney Theatrical Productions made its big debut on Broadway in 1994 with the stage-musical adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast." Three years later, it landed what would be (and still is) its biggest critical and commercial hit with "The Lion King," directed by Julie Taymor.
Since then, Disney has experienced some disappointments, including "Tarzan" and "The Little Mermaid." Last season, it had a hit with "Newsies," based on the 1992 movie about a newspaper strike. The musical has turned a profit and is launching a national tour.
Critical reaction to Broadway's "Aladdin" has been warm, though not always enthusiastic, with reviewers saying that the show offers solid entertainment but fails to match the creative innovation of "The Lion King."
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote that the show "defied my dour expectations ... [it] has an infectious and only mildly syrupy spirit. Not to mention enough baubles, bangles and beading to keep a whole season of 'RuPaul's Drag Race' contestants in runway attire."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney described the musical as "sweet, silly fun. It's not the most sophisticated entertainment, but the target demographic won't mind at all."
Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal wrote that the show "falls roughly halfway between those two stools" of "The Lion King" and "Tarzan." "It's not nearly as good as the movie, but it does have a terrific star, super-duper sets and sensational special effects."
Roma Torre of NY1 described the show as "near the top" of Disney's Broadway productions. "This is a wonderful adaptation filled with color, charm and loads of theatrical magic."