On March 20 Disney’s latest animated film-turned-stage musical, Aladdin, opened on Broadway. There has been a lot of buzz about the new production, particularly regarding the new songs and characters, many of which have been revived from the early stages of the development for 1992’s top grossing film. The film’s release came over a year and a half after the death of Howard Ashman, lyricist most famous for Little Shop of Horrors (1982 stage musical; 1986 film) as well as Disney’s films The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). Aladdin was Ashman’s final project with composer Alan Menken and Disney, but unfortunately it’s a project that Ashman did not get to see to fruition (Tim Rice was hired as lyricist for the remainder of the project).
The Music Division is home to the Howard Ashman Papers, a collection that showcases a slice of the early script/screenplay drafts of these films, along with notes by Ashman as well as research materials. Of the numerous script and screenplay drafts included in the Howard Ashman Papers at the Library of Congress, particularly interesting is a typed copy of Aladdin with treatment and lyrics by Ashman and music by Menken dated January 12, 1988. According to Ashman’s notes, Aladdin is about fifteen years old (“in intelligence and sensitivity, think Matthew Broderick”) and is motivated by the need to prove to his mother that he is responsible and capable of growing up and making her proud. Babkak, Omar, and Kasim are Aladdin’s gang of friends (revived in the Broadway musical) and are described as “Bill Cosby’s old Fat Albert gang or the Bowery Boys, or The Jets and The Sharks, or Run DMC after a sweet-injection.” Of Aladdin’s mother (Maman) Ashman wrote, “If Gepetto had been a Middle Eastern matriarch, he might have been something like this.” Jafar was not “Jafar” yet; instead, he was called The Wazir, and his “smart-mouthed, back-talking sidekick” parrot was named Sinbad. Most surprising though is the description of Jasmine as “a purely comic creation; the ultimate in pampered spoiled brattiness” as well as the character Abbi: “The tomboy female component in [Aladdin’s] gang. (In West Side Story she’d play ‘Anybody’s.’) She’s the Girl-Next-Door to Aladdin and he doesn’t even notice that she is a girl until fairly late in the proceedings. But when he does notice, boy are we happy.” Ashman’s original concept included a bratty and entitled Princess Jasmine; while on an epic adventure to save the princess, Aladdin would see Abbi’s love for him manifested as she protects him on his journey. Though he is offered the princess’ hand in marriage after saving her life and the kingdom, Aladdin ultimately refuses in favor of true love with Abbi.
The first time I read these pages, I was stunned. “Wait,” I thought, “Aladdin wasn’t originally supposed to be with Jasmine??” As a child of the ‘90s, the concept is unfathomable. What would my childhood be without Aladdin and Jasmine’s love duet “A Whole New World” (and what would my ideal karaoke night be without it for that matter?)? Of course, the screenplay went through many developments from conception to production (as all major projects do), and the character of Abbi did not make it very far. In screenplay drafts soon thereafter Abbi vanishes from the story and Jasmine becomes Aladdin’s love interest (and a much more endearing person!). Despite these changes, Ashman’s vision remains at Aladdin’s thematic and emotional core; in Ashman’s words, “This version of the ALADDIN story is shooting for…a kind of musical comedy energy…It celebrates freedom…the triumph of the little guy, and an affirmation of non-materialistic values…”
The 1988 “treatment and lyrics” document includes full lyrics for seven songs: “Arabian Nights,” “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kasim,” “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,” “Proud of Your Boy,” “Call Me a Princess,” “How Quick They Forget,” and “High Adventure.” “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kasim,” “Proud of Your Boy,” “Call Me a Princess,” and “High Adventure” have been revived in the new Broadway production. The contents of the Howard Ashman Papers capture the history of these repurposed numbers and the development of the characters on paper. Read more about the Aladdin materials in the Ashman Papers as featured in the Library’s online exhibit Molto Animato! Music and Animation. And now I’ll go look for a cassette player so I can listen to my own 1992 soundtrack cassette tape – memories!