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Disney on Broadway: A Director with a Genie Touch (Sponsored Article)


For twelve years he sang and danced in the choruses of multiple Broadway shows. Then, while performing in the Dr. Seuss musical Seussical, Casey Nicholaw had an epiphany. He says, laughing, “I was in a cage on stage in a purple yarn suit singing backup, and I was like, ‘I need a little more!’”

He decided to try his hand at choreography, hosting a showcase attended by some of Broadway’s top theater professionals. Among them was legendary director Mike Nichols, who hired Nicholaw to choreograph Spamalot. An instant success, the show went on to win the 2005 Tony Award® for Best Musical. Nicholaw continued his winning streak with the raucous hit The Drowsy Chaperone and the global smash The Book of Mormon, for which he won a Tony Award® for Best Direction of a Musical. In just a few years, Nicholaw had taken over a brand-new role—as Broadway’s go-to director/choreographer for new musical comedies.

So, when the folks at Disney were on the lookout for someone to direct their stage version of ALADDIN, Nicholaw was a wish come true. Thomas Schumacher, the show’s producer and president of Disney Theatrical Group, says, “He’s really the Gower Champion of our time—a guy who looks at a show for its entertainment value, who thinks, ‘How much fun is it going to be?’”

It was a dream job, albeit one that came with its own unique challenges. Nicholaw says, “The tone of the movie was really action-adventure, and on stage you can’t do most of that. You have to give it a different take and make it theatrical in a way that we haven’t seen on film.”

And how does ALADDIN become more theatrical? For the stage version of “Friend Like Me,” the Genie’s Act One showstopper, Nicholaw returned to the song’s roots as a Cab Calloway-style big band number. Nicholaw says, “It originally had much more of a vaudeville, musical theater feel to it. So we’ve added that back in.” But he also threw in a nod to “Dancing with the Stars” and some country-western for fun. Nicholaw admits, “It takes a lot to choreograph a number that also gets laughs.”

Nicholaw adds, “It’s a very funny show, but it’s also very sophisticated. I think it’s going to be so much fun for people who’ve seen the movie to see it now on stage. Now it’s a bit more adult.” According to Nicholaw, “It’s still true to the movie, but it’s done in high musical theater style.”

Audiences and critics were quick to fall in love with the show: it opened to rave reviews and became the undisputed top-selling new musical of the season. Despite the show’s success, Nicholaw doesn’t take all the credit. He says, “I’ve never seen a group of people work so hard at getting something right. It’s like doing theater for all the reasons that you love. That’s what I want to see as a director.”

The hard work has unquestionably paid off. Nicholaw says, “It’s been such a journey. We always knew it would be good, but we had no idea it would be this good. It makes me so proud. All I want ALADDIN to do is to bring joy into people’s lives. We could all use it.”


Arabian Nights, photo by Deen van Meer


Adam Jacobs, photo by Deen van Meer


Courtney Reed and Brandt Martinez, photo by Cylla von Tiedemann