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The Who's Tommy

Casey Nicholaw Works His Magic

The Tony-winning director talks about Aladdin, The Book of Mormon, and Elf.

By New York City
Casey Nicholaw
(© Tristan Fuge)
Casey Nicholaw
(© Tristan Fuge)
Casey Nicholaw has made the transition from Broadway performer to becoming one of its most successful choreographers and directors, having worked on such hits as Monty Python's Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone . His most recent shows have been Elf and The Book of Mormon, for which Nicholaw and his co-director Trey Parker won the Tony Award for Best Director. He is currently in Seattle, directing and choreographing the new musical Aladdin at the 5th Avenue Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke with Nicholaw about these projects.

THEATERMANIA: What was Tony Award night like for you?
CASEY NICHOLAW: It was very fun and exciting. The whole experience felt like a dream. The really cool moment for me was at the Tony party. I was passing around the award to strangers and taking pictures. At 3am, in the car on my way back to my apartment, I was like, "Wow, I have a Tony." Then, once I returned to Seattle, the cast had a huge congratulations banner. They were dressed as Mormons, and brought in treats. It was a really special time for me.

TM: What interested you most about Aladdin?
CN: I always wanted to do something for Disney. I loved the movie. We are restoring six or seven songs written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman that were cut from the movie. We are also adding new songs and making this production into a musical comedy.

TM: Does the musical follow the film?
CN: Absolutely, though we have expanded it and changed the tone a bit. We didn't include the non-human characters from the movie, because we didn't want to dress people in animal costumes or have puppets. There are three characters that were in the original screenplay, but didn't make it, who now serve as narrators for the piece.

TM: How do you come up with the staging for the songs?
CN: I listen to the music over and over again. I then watch my own movie of what the number should be or should look like in my head. From there, I try to bring that to life in rehearsals and onstage. We don't have an enormous budget in Seattle, so there won't be a flying carpet over the audiences' heads! Part of it is being creative and clever.

TM: Jonathan Freeman played Jafar in the Aladdin film, and he is now bringing his character to life on stage. What has it been like having him involved?
CN: It's been great. The first time we did the read through and everyone heard Jafar's voice, they went crazy!

TM: Will Aladdin be heading to the Great White Way?
CN: It's not scheduled for Broadway. The goal is to create this for Disney and see how this version looks and if audiences like the script.

Rema Webb, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Gadin The Book of Mormon
(© Joan Marcus)
Rema Webb, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Gad
in The Book of Mormon
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Let's talk about The Book of Mormon. What were your initial thoughts on the musical? Did you feel the material was too shocking?
CN: At first, yes; but once we got the heart and the context down, it didn't feel that way any longer. If people only read the script, they would be shocked.

TM: Which was your favorite number to choreograph?
CN: Wow, so many! The first number I choreographed is "Two By Two," which is the second song, and that was a blast. I like "Turn It Off."

TM: Were you expecting the production to be this widely accepted, and to have such an impact on audiences?
CN: In the beginning, we had no idea. We were just working on a fun piece. We did a six-week workshop before we went into Broadway rehearsals, and knew at that point that we were onto something, especially after talking to people who were involved with the workshop.

TM: Elf was a big hit this past holiday season. Will the production be returning to Broadway for the holidays?
CN: I certainly hope so. We are trying! At this point, it's about getting a theatre. We are waiting for someone to call and say we have space for you.


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