Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway pay tribute to Robin Williams

I used to watch Aladdin on repeat when I was a child and the VHS tape we owned was nearly worn out by the time the movie was released on DVD.

My younger brother and I knew the movie backwards and we took great pride in the fact that we could sing ALL the words to Genie’s epic show-stopping numbers ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’, performed by the incredibly talented Robin Williams, and would do so at any given opportunity. Our poor parents suffered through many-a car trip with the two of us mastering the text and chewing on the consonants.

To be honest, I’m not sure we understood everything we sang about at the time, but as with most things music theatre, the information stored in my brain from the lyrics in this song have continually come back to help me through life. It sounds strange, but I am being quite serious when I say much of my general knowledge (dates, names, fashion, cultural references) was initially learned in the context of a musical. Knowing -word for word – a song as jam-packed with culture and external references as ‘Friend Like Me’ helped me move from blissful ignorance as a child to understanding phrases and concepts as I grew. I’m certain my retention of the text has a lot to do with Robin Williams’ incredible ability to captivate an audience with his voice. I remember the inflections, the tonality, the way he manipulated sound to create contrast within a short time frame and because of this, I will always have his voice in my head when I remember this song.

In tribute to actor and comedian Robin Williams, who sadly passed away earlier this week, the Broadway cast of Aladdin – the musical passed out lyric sheets to their entire 1700-strong audience at the New Amsterdam Theatre to sing a section of ‘Friend Like Me’. It was a touching display, captured on video (below), and a rousing tribute to a man who has touched the lives of many around the world.

I wonder though, how many people actually needed to read from those lyric sheets? Had I been there, had my brother been there, had many who grew up in the 80s and 90s been there that night, we most likely would have held onto those lyric sheets for strength, but the words were already in our hearts.

Vale, Robin Williams. I’ve never had a friend like you.

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Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

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