Noises Off: Hamburger preps live ‘Aladdin’

Disney’s “Aladdin” is the latest animated feature to get the legit treatment. But its magic carpet isn’t headed to Broadway.

The new stage musical, the first major project on Anne Hamburger’s slate as exec VP at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, opens Dec. 9 at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim. With the original film score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the show has been given a new book by Chad Beguelin (“The Rhythm Club”) and will be directed by opera helmer Francesca Zambello. Choreography is by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who staged “Swing!” on Broadway.

Hamburger surprised the legit world when she left her gig as artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse in 2000, after only one season. She had previously been longtime artistic director of En Garde Arts, the legit company she founded that was well-known for its site-specific works.

Her quick switch to Disney’s theme parks stunned some observers, who thought it meant she might end up overseeing parades. “I got both reactions. There were a lot of people who were excited and got it,” Hamburger said. “In my mind, I can do what I always did, but instead of one location, I’ve now got a worldwide palace.”

As for taking “Aladdin” beyond the Disney theme parks, Hamburger didn’t rule it out. “That is up to Tom Schumacher and Michael Eisner. If it works to make it into a two-hour show and take it to Broadway, they will,” she said. “But my focus is on the theme parks.”

At present, “Aladdin” is projected at 30 to 40 minutes, a tad short for a Broadway tuner. However, Hamburger calls it the perfect length “for parents who want to bring their young children to see quality theater but can’t afford Broadway prices or latenight schedules.” Hamburger confirmed “Aladdin” would travel to Disney World in Orlando and perhaps other Disney theme parks.

Zambello’s participation continues the House of Mouse’s recent tradition of putting cutting-edge directors such as Julie Taymor (“The Lion King,” “Pinocchio”) and Matthew Bourne (“The Little Mermaid”) in charge of its legit productions. Reviled or lauded for her bizarre interpretations of classic operas, Zambello will stage Hector Berlioz’s five-hour-plus extravaganza “Les Troyens” at the Metropolitan Opera this season. Her last outing there was an ultra-cerebral staging of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” in 1992, which the ultra-conservative opera company yanked from its repertory after only two seasons.

The reshape of things

Neil LaBute looks back to the day after the terrorist attacks in his new play, “The Mercy Seat.”

Set on Sept. 12, the two-hander chronicles the relationship between an older woman and an adulterous younger man. It world preems this December at the Manhattan Class Co., with LaBute directing.

MCC artistic directors Bernard Telsey and Robert LuPone had planned to stage LaBute’s “The Distance From Here” this season, but have pushed that production back to 2003-04 to make way for “The Mercy Seat.”

“This play seems time-sensitive,” LaBute says of “Mercy Seat” and its Sept. 12 date. “Now is the time to put it up.” Contributing to the switch is director David Leveaux’s busy work sked, which prevented him from helming “Distance” this season in New York City. “If we do it right, we can accommodate David down the road,” LaBute says. Leveaux directed the world premiere of “Distance” at London’s Almeida Theater in May.

MCC recently lost its lease at its West 28th Street venue and thus will present its 2002-03 season, including “Mercy Seat,” at the new six-theater complex on West 42nd Street.

Reluctant to discuss the plot of “Mercy Seat,” LaBute says it differs from his more recent plays in that there is less sexual gamesmanship, “although most relationships end up being games,” he adds. The theme of male beauty, however, continues to be a preoccupation for the writer-director.

“The man in ‘Mercy Seat’ gets a lot of mileage from the way he looks,” LaBute says. “People aren’t what they seem. He is someone who has tried to skirt issues, and has come to a crossroads.”

Other productions in MCC’s 2002-03 season include “Scattergood” by first-time playwright Anto Howard, starring Brian Murray as a professor whose protege attempts to achieve modern-day knighthood through his teachings. MCC rounds out the season with Kate Robin’s “Intrigue With Faye,” in which a young couple videotape each other’s every move, to be directed by Jim Simpson of the Flea Theater.

And soon there will be five.

The producers of “Mamma Mia!” have announced a new production of the Abba musical for Las Vegas. In addition to Broadway, the super-hit tuner by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus is currently playing Toronto with touring productions in Cleveland and San Francisco.

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino is the lucky Vegas venue, where “Mamma Mia!” is skedded to open in February 2003 for an open-ended run.

Over the years, several touring productions have played Vegas, but “MM!” will be one of the very few legit shows to risk a sit-down Broadway production there. Most recently, “Chicago” opened Mandalay Bay’s 1,700-seat theater, in March 1999. Although it ran for a year, the John Kander-Fred Ebb revival was considered too dark for the new family-oriented Vegas and it didn’t qualify as a B.O. success. Neither did a truncated version of “Starlight Express.” Mandalay Bay’s revue “Storm” replaced “Chicago” at the hotel’s theater. At present, the Off Broadway show “Blue Man Group” is well into its third year at the Luxor Las Vegas.

The touring productions of “MM!” around the country haven’t hurt the Broadway receipts. In fact, the show’s average ticket price has edged out that of “The Producers” for the past few weeks, and at its current $85 average is nearly $1 ahead of levels the show set for itself shortly after the tuner opened at the Winter Garden Oct. 18, 2001.

Roundabout Robyn

Legit producer Robyn Goodman eases back into the not-for-profit sector without giving up her new commercial spurs.

Todd Haimes of Roundabout Theater Co. says Goodman, who recently made her Broadway debut as a lead producer of the play “Metamorphoses,” has been made an artistic consultant with the legit org.

Goodman said her major responsibilities would be to “develop new works as well as commercial transfers” of legit projects. The company’s long-running production of “Cabaret” made the commercial switch shortly after its successful not-for-profit launch four-plus years ago. Goodman’s appointment would suggest the Roundabout, best known for its revivals, will be beefing up its production of new plays.

Goodman will continue to work as an independent producer with her company, Aged in Wood. In collaboration with “Rent” producers Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, she holds the commercial option to new musical “Avenue Q,” set to open at the Vineyard Theater next year.

Prior to her commercial stints, Goodman co-founded Second Stage with Carole Rothman in 1979.

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