Stories That Are Adored by All
The month of November marks the transition from a brilliant New York City autumn to a magical holiday season kicking off with Thanksgiving on the 23rd. In the spirit of that holiday which sees family and friends coming together in celebration and gratitude we are taking a closer look at some of the best family shows currently running on Broadway. As with its searing dramas, the family musical is something the Great White Way excels at, bringing to life beloved family films or re-imaging cherished characters in new, exciting ways that are made all the more vibrant by the magic of live theatre.
Inspired by the 1992 Disney animated classic, the Tony Award-nominated musical Aladdin is a family favorite that transports audiences to a far-off world filled with daring sword fights, magic carpets, and a prince in disguise. With a soaring score by Academy Award winner Alan Menken featuring “Arabian Nights,” “A Whole New World,” and “Friend Like Me,” Aladdin follows the same plot as the lm with newly added characters, songs, and adventures.
The musical first opened at Broadway’s New Amsterdam theatre in 2014, was an instant hit with critics and audiences alike and was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best New Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography. The current cast features Broadway favorite Telly Leung in the title role. Following a successful run in the musical Allegiance, Leung is joined by original cast member Courtney Reed as Princess Jasmine and Major Attaway as the wisecracking Genie. The production is filled with sumptuous set pieces by seasoned theatre designer Bob Crowley and glittering costumes by Gregg Barnes. The production is a true standout in its eye- popping production numbers with choreography and direction by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Elf) capturing all the dazzling magic for which Broadway and Disney are known. From the impressive parade of “Prince Ali” to the freewheeling romance of “A Whole New World’s” magic carpet ride, Aladdin leaves family audiences with mouths agape in ear-to-ear grins. (New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St.)
The Lion King
Another beloved Disney classic currently coming to life on the Broadway stage is the legendary original production of The Lion King. Now celebrating its 20th year on the Great White Way, the groundbreaking production continues to wow audiences with its imaginative and highly theatrical take on the animated film, thanks in large part to the genius direction of theatre icon Julie Taymor. With a true visionary use of puppetry, Taymor creates a world where the animal characters are simultaneously allowed to show their humanity and their animalistic nature.
Paired with thrilling moving set pieces and stunning choreography by Garth Fagan, The Lion King is a true feast for the eyes starting with the remarkable opening number “The Circle of Life,” which quite literally immerses audiences in the world of the African Serengeti. Elton John’s award-winning score including “He Lives in You” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is given new life with traditional African orchestrations by South African composer Lebo M. Astounding theatrics and production values aside, the true mastery of Taymor’s production is that it maintains the heart and spirit of the original lm, preserving its enduring tale of family, forgiveness, and redemption. (Minskoff Theatre, 200 W. 45th St.)
School of Rock
Inspired by the hit Jack Black film of the same name, the energetic new musical School of Rock marks another opportunity for a night out at the theatre that the entire family can enjoy. The high-octane musical features an electrical score including hits from the movie as well as new music from theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Webber whose rock savvy can be heard in classics such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera. What makes this musical particularly special is that the music is performed by an ensemble of multitalented pre-teens and young adults – the same child actors who play students at the eponymous “school.”
School of Rock opened at the Winter Garden Theatre (the original home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running hit Cats) and was nominated for 2016 Tony Awards for Best New Musical and Best Original Score. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes also received a Best Book of a Musical nomination for his sidesplitting, witty, and heartfelt adaptation of the film. Broadway star Eric Petersen (Peter and the Starcatcher, Shrek the Musical) currently leads the ensemble as Dewey, the fearless if somewhat misguided would-be teacher, who teaches his students the empowering spirit of letting loose and rocking out. Prolific Broadway lighting designer Natasha Katz creates a world that rivals any rock concert leaving audiences buzzing with energy long after the curtain goes down. (Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway)
One of the most recognizable characters in the world, Nickelodeon’s cherished SpongeBob SquarePants arrives on Broadway this fall with the rest of Bikini Bottom in a joyous new musical. After a colorful out-of-town tryout at Chicago’s famed Oriental Theatre, SpongeBob SquarePants fnds its way to the legendary Palace Theatre where it begins performances November 6th. The new production is directed by visionary theatre artist and Steppenwolf Theatre member Tina Landau who re-imagines the world of SpongeBob with innovative theatricality. In a truly groundbreaking concept, the new production features a score made up of entirely original songs written specifically for the show by some of music’s biggest stars including Steven Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, and many others, including an original new song from the late David Bowie.
Christopher Gattelli, a Tony Award winner for his high-flying choreography for the hit Newsies, arranges what are sure to be thrilling production numbers. Newcomer Ethan Slater makes his Broadway debut as the title character and is joined by Tony nominee Gavin Lee (Mary Poppins) as Squidward and Spring Awakening alum Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks. The new musical sees the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom banding together to fight for their home when their undersea world is threatened with annihilation. As their destinies hang in the balance an unexpected hero takes center stage and saves the day. Fans of the beloved series are sure to find joy in SpongeBob SquarePants, a daring new musical perfect for the entire family. (Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway)