“Aladdin,” Move Over! Here Come the Real “Arabian Nights”

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
20 March, 2014

You probably noticed it too: New York is in a state of shivering anticipation right now about the latest animated fairytale-turned-Broadway musical, Disney’s Aladdin. It promises to be an oriental spectacle like nothing we’ve seen since Kismet dazzled the world, though – admittedly – the Howard Ashman/Tim Rice/Alan Menken score isn’t quite as opulently spectacular as its famous Robert Wright/George Forrest predecessor. But then again, bare chested Adam Jacobs as Aladdin (photo) could make us forget about music for a second or two and focus on other delights.

Snapshot of the bare chested hero in the new Diney Broadway production of "Aladdin".

Snapshot of the bare chested hero in the new Diney Broadway production of “Aladdin”.

If all this makes you wonder if there aren’t any operettas offering simular visual and musical joys, look no further than the 1954 musical extravaganza Arabian Nights byCarmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb. It’s sometimes labeled an “aquatic operetta” because it premiered at the newly built 8,200-seat Jones Beach Marine Theatre, Long Island. Sepia Records re-issued the original cast album a while back, and that album is definitely a treasure, containing some of the most rousing operetta music ever.

Arabian Nights retells the tale of Scheherazade, who regaled her husband the Sultan with a different tale a night in order to distract him from having her beheaded the next day. Characters include a Genie, Sinbad, Aladdin (!) and a Chinese Emperor. The tuneful score offers outstanding love duets such as “How Long Has it Been?” and “A Thousand and One Nights,” the lilting waltz “Marry the One You Love” and the bouncy “Teenie Weenie Genie.”

Lauritz Melchior, celebrated Danish Heldentenor and Metropolitan Opera star, was invited to star as the Sultan/Chinese Emperor in 1954 and gets to sing “A Long Ago Love” with majestic melting tones. Also in the large cast was the young baritone William Chapman (later of the New York City Opera), Helena Scott, a lovely soprano with considerable experience with Rodgers & Hammerstein, and real elephants. At least 112 people were on stage at the finale, there was as a large Chinese junk that floated in, and we should not forget the show-stopping 70-foot floating whale – being tooth brushed by Sinbad’ sailors! (Hey, Disney, try to top that.)

The cover of the Sepai CD version of "Arabian Nights".

The cover of the Sepai CD version of “Arabian Nights”.

The Sepia disc offers superb sound quality, full orchestral arrangements, and a very worthwhile essay by the late Richard Traubner who was a particular fan of this operetta. So, if you want to expand your Aladdin joys and continue the Thousand and One Night feeling, check out Arabian Nights. I promise, you won’t turn off “How Long Has It Been?” and “Teenie Weenie Genie” especially when it’s sung by Hope Holiday. But actually, you’ll know you’re in the right place after the first five bars of the overture already.

Bonus tracks are excerpts from the show recorded by Guy Lombardo’s band, with Kenny Gardner and the Lombardo Trio doing most of the singing on the Lombardo-ised foxtrots, waltzes and beguine numbers.

For more info click here and read an review from Musical Criticism.