CSO to take audience to ‘a whole new world’ with ‘Aladdin Live in Concert’

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra has a brand of magic that never fails; some power in their corner. The double bass and the percussion section? Some heavy ammunition in their camp. One might even say that they’ve got some punch, pizzazz, yahoo — and how.

All they have to do is rub that lamp.

illustration by alexander graham / design editor

And at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, July 9, in the Amphitheater, under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, the CSO will grant the audience a wish (or two, or three) with “Aladdin Live in Concert” as they play Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning score while the 1992 animated Disney classic plays on screens overhead.

In a phrase: “It is going to be ridiculously fun,” Chafetz said.

“Aladdin” earned two Oscars for its soundtrack, which includes, of course, “Arabian Nights,” “Prince Ali,” and “Friend Like Me” — as well as the first and only song from a Disney feature film to earn a Grammy Award for Song of the Year: “A Whole New World,” sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. The film led to two direct-to-video sequels (the third installment featured Robin Williams’ return to the role of Genie.) Then came the Broadway adaptation, and a 2019 live-action film starring Will Smith.

“For the audience, there’s always that ‘wow’ moment, when a movie plays, and you hear the music, and it reminds you of your childhood. It takes you right back to where you were,” Chafetz said. “For me, that’s definitely the case (with live movie score performances). With ‘Aladdin,’ all those familiar tunes, it’s such a part of the culture.”

The CSO has been performing live to classic, popular movies for several years now, so they’ve got the likes of the Harry Potter series, “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” under their belts. Chafetz often conducts live-music movies, from “E.T.” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” all across the country.

They know the pacing, the use of click tracks, the locking in of every single cue. But “Aladdin,” Chafetz said, is a bit different.

“There is a lot of music — it barely stops,” he said. “Other films, you might have five, six minutes without music, but with ‘Aladdin,’ it’s more like 12 seconds, and then it’s on to the next thing. We’re constantly playing. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration.”

Recording a film’s score in a studio would occur in chunks: record a section, take a break, maybe re-record. But live? 

“This was never designed to be played live, because it’s so difficult. And on top of that, you have to play it all the way through,” Chafetz said. “There’s a lot of adjusting you need to do, tuning changes, percussion sets moving from wind chimes to gongs and back. In the studio, you stop, reset, take the next section. Here, you have to anticipate it as it’s going by, which means it requires incredible virtuosity.”

More than that, it’s not just that “Aladdin” features almost-constant music; it’s that the kind of music is incredibly varied.

“There’s jazz, there’s this Middle Eastern sound, there’s classical,” Chafetz said. “The variety of styles within the music is truly amazing, and will really show off just how awesome the CSO really is, to switch styles like it’s nothing, because it’s not nothing. You have to know jazz, bossa nova, and it takes years to do something like that. But that’s why it works so well here: The CSO is amazing, the Amp is perfect. I just love it.”

In a film packed with nearly non-stop music, beloved lyrics, stunning visuals and the voice talents of such heavy hitters as Williams, Gilbert Gottfried — and then the addition of Smith to the roster by virtue of the live-action adaptation — Chafetz pointed out another diamond Chautauquans can experience: One of their own.

Jonathan Freeman, who voiced Jafar in the original 1992 film, and in the Broadway stage adaptation, is the nephew of longtime Chautauquans vic gelb and his wife, Joan.

“When I realized this, I was just starstruck,” Chafetz said. “That one line, when he asks Aladdin, ‘Where are you from?’ and the answer is, basically, ‘Places you’ve never been.’ And then Jafar says: ‘Try me.’ I love that line, the way he delivers it. And to have that Chautauqua connection is really, really cool.”

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The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is entering her fifth summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, she served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group. She lives in Jamestown with her husband, a photographer, and her Lilac, a cat.