When the song-and-dance finale of this year’s gala fundraiser for Theater Development Fund came around, the performers trotted out that familiar tune from “Aladdin,” “A Whole New World.” But it wasn’t quite the song you know.
Instead, the performance, part of the TDF benefit honoring Disney Theatrical Productions and its president Thomas Schumacher, culminated in a version of the tune with lyrics rewritten by Broadway regular and former DTP staffer Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “Peter and the Starcatcher”), and performed by four genies, an Aladdin, a Mary Poppins and a dozen alumni of TDF’s Open Doors program. Opening lyric: “Tom has shown me the world…”
Before that, a very pregnant Ashley Brown (Broadway’s original Poppins) and Adam Jacobs (its original Aladdin) sang from Disney stage favorites like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” — not to mention “Aladdin,” for which Tony-winning genie James Monroe Igleheart brought out three other actors cast in the role for a rendition of “Friend Like Me.”
It was all part of an event celebrating DTP and Schumacher’s enduring support for TDF and its programs. But Schumacher deflected the praise lavished on him at the start of the presentation by TDF chiefs, executive director Victoria Bailey and chairman Earl D. Weiner. “If I run into that guy you’re talking about, I’ll hand him some polish for his halo,” Schumacher joked.
He quickly directed attention back to TDF, which is best known for its famous TKTS booth but also runs a wide array of educational and access initiatives, including the regular autism-friendly performances that Disney was the first to embrace. For years Schumacher has served as mentor in TDF’s Open Doors Program, which brings select students from New York City high schools to six shows a year as well as mentorship from industry pros like Schumacher.
Fourteen of his former mentees were in the crowd at the gala. He pointed them all out affectionately. “Who doesn’t want to go to theater with these people?” he asked.