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NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Chad Beguelin helps give 'Aladdin' its magic
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The musical version of Disney's Aladdin takes the popular cartoon and gives it even more of a shine. The story follows a young man discovering a genie in a lamp. He uses his wishes to pursue a princess and battle an evil Grand Vizier. The book was written by Chad Beguelin, who also wrote lyrics along with Tim Rice and Howard Ashman.

Before this project, Beguelin wrote the book for the musical The Wedding Singer and the lyrics for Elf the Musical. He was nominated for two Tony Award with The Wedding Singer making him a four time nominee.

He wrote the book with Bob Martin for the film-based musical Gotta Dance ( now titled Half Time ) since its Chicago debut in 2015.

Disney Theatrical launches the North American tour in Chicago, and Windy City Times called Beguelin to talk about it.

Windy City Times: Hi, Chad. So you are originally from Illinois?

Chad Beguelin: A little town called Centralia, Illinois. It is very Southern.

WCT: Did you visit Chicago often while growing up?

CB: We did. My parents and I came there to see theater a lot. There are a lot of fond memories from my childhood in Chicago, so it is great Aladdin is opening there.

WCT: Do you have a favorite musical of all time?

CB: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Evita. My birthday cake one year was the cast album cover. It ran deep!

WCT: What did you think of Madonna's version?

CB: She was good. I, one day, dream of seeing Lady Gaga do it.

WCT: Had you worked with Disney before Aladdin?

CB: Many years ago the theme park, which is completely different than the theatrical department, approached me to write a 30-minute version for California Adventure at the Hyperion Theater. It ran for a gazillion years afterwards.

Unbeknownst to the Broadway producers, they brought me in for several scripts that they could license out to schools and regional theaters. Aladdin was on the list. I told them it was my favorite. That is how it all came about.

WCT: How did you approach writing it?

CB: Originally, it was never destined for Broadway. My first script I did a very true to the movie version. They sent it to composer Alan Menken, who wanted to meet with me. I thought he would love it, but instead he wanted it thrown out. He wanted me to incorporate as many of the songs that were cut from the movie that he had written with Howard Ashman as possible. Suddenly I had a whole batch of songs that not people knew of.

It became a puzzle of getting these songs into the show. There are characters that sang the songs that don't exist in the movie. It became a different process.

I am a huge Howard Ashman fan. I was eager to have his songs heard. He is the reason I wanted to become a lyricist.

WCT: Did you add LGBT content?

CB: There might be some winks here and there. I don't want to spoil anything.

In the story, I can relate to it as a gay man because it is about someone pretending to be something he is not. His dreams don't come true until he comes out and lives his true life and true self.

WCT: Do you think the genie role is better the more flamboyant it is played?

CB: Before Robin Williams was part of the mix, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had the idea to make him a Cab Calloway character, a 1930s club act. We ran with that. We were blessed to have James Monroe Inglehart, who was amazing and made the role his own. There is a lot of sass in there!

WCT: Does the Chicago cast member make it his own? Is improv allowed?

CB: He puts his own spin on it. We make sure the improv is reined in a little bit. We do want to get people out on time.

WCT: There are differences from the movie I read. Is Iago a person [instead of] a parrot?

CB: In this production, he is a henchman. It is inferred that he was once a bird.

We considered animals like Jasmine's tiger, but we thought no one is going to do animals onstage better than The Lion King.

WCT: How did it feel to receive Tony nominations?

CB: It was exciting to be there and be a part of it. We didn't originally get rave reviews so we had to work hard and rewrite it. It was a happy surprise when we got it to Broadway that we felt we got it right. It is a testament to how hard everyone worked.

WCT: How was [your experience with] The Wedding Singer: the Musical?

CB: It was my first show ever on Broadway. It has an afterlife. My husband and I just went down to Puerto Rico because my nephew is going to high school there. They did The Wedding Singer there. We went to see it, which was surreal.

They just kicked off a new UK tour. It is funny how something we wrote so long ago keeps popping up.

WCT: Talk about your new project, The Prom.

CB: We just did it in Atlanta, and waiting for a new theater in New York. Right now every theater is completely booked.

It is a story about a lesbian who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. The school board says no. A bunch of out of work Broadway actors hear about it and go to throw a rally to change minds. They are so ego maniacal that they make it worse before they make it better.

WCT: Are you coming to Chicago for the premier of Aladdin?

CB: There is a conflict because the Melbourne kick off is the same night. I am going to be in Australia. I will come back to see the Chicago show afterwards.

WCT: Weren't you in town for the Gotta Dance premiere?

CB: I was and in Chicago for three cold months. I was writing the book for that. It is called Half Time now. It will be at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2018. We are going to do more work on it and get the old gang together. No pun intended…

WCT: That was a cold night at that red carpet. Does your dog go with you to the red carpets?

CB: Of course. My little yorkie has a bowtie!

Make a wish for tickets, as Disney's Aladdin run through Sept. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Visit or call 800-775-2000 for more information .

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