The Broadway musical Aladdin, playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre and produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, is adapted from the 1992 Disney animated film and centuries-old folktales, including One Thousand And One Nights. Aladdin’s journey sweeps audiences into his exotic world through the design efforts of the show’s creative team, which is a wish granted for any producer. The magic is woven by scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz, costume designer Gregg Barnes, sound designer Ken Travis, and illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer.
For this theatrical version of Aladdin, director Casey Nicholaw and the team decided on a throwback-style musical with more of a vaudeville-based take on the story. This gave Crowley a jumping off point to start his research into what the setting of Agrabah would look like. “The only Aladdin that I’ve ever known, working in Ireland and England, was when we saw it at Christmas as what we call a ‘pantomime,’” Crowley explains. “I hadn’t even seen the animated film when it came out.”
Early in developing the book, it was decided that the characters would regularly break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Crowley continues, “Pantomime has its roots in the music hall and that sort of feeling. Casey knew that as well. He wanted to bring that kind of front cloth feel to the whole thing, a modern version of a vaudeville show. In the beginning, the curtain falls down instead of going up. The Genie is there talking to you directly as a character.”
The next step for Crowley was to come up with the look of the show, a fantasy version of Arabia. “I sort of made it up,” he laughs. “I looked at a lot of villages of Morocco, images of Arabia, and Hollywood versions of it over the past 50, 60 years—all that with pop culture mixed in with my research into architecture and things like that. I mixed it all up into a bit of a cocktail and painted it in extremely bright colors, which I don’t normally use. It was a real riff on color and I had to work very closely with Gregg. I think that Casey might have been a bit scared to begin with, with all of the riotous colors going on, but I asked him to trust us.”
Crowley maintains that he never uses this much color in his other designs. “It started with a very hot orange—very, very hot orange because I associate orange with energy. I kept telling Casey, ‘It won’t compete with your actors; it will make them look bigger, stronger, and bolder.’ Suddenly, it goes from very hot, hot, hot outdoor colors—Moroccan souk kind of colors—to cool, cool, cool kind of pale turquoise and marble interior colors. I thought about getting away from the heat and making it all cool, cool as a cucumber.”
Crowley also used a lot of fabrics, including silks for the dunes. “I wanted them to be very lightweight and have a mirage-like quality to them,” he says. “The dunes are all made of silk, as is the souk. Fabrics have a kind of magical quality about them and aren’t too solid. I was trying to make it soft and sensuous—those Middle Eastern colors, which are so fantastic. Also we use interior fretwork to create screens, which we could get light through.”