SALT LAKE CITY — Actor Clinton Greenspan’s love for “Aladdin” started like many youngsters who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s: by VHS tape.
The tape of the 1992 Disney film was a fixture in his collection, one he found himself returning to again and again.
“It was always one of my favorites,” Greenspan said in an interview with the Deseret News. “… Just like most of the world, I was an enormous fan of Robin Williams at young age and I was watching many of his films … but that one rung truly. It was a very special one for me.”
When, as an adult, he heard the beloved story would be making the jump to Broadway, Greenspan knew it was a show he couldn’t miss.
“It was a crazy moment for me. I was like, 'There's no way that I cannot see this show … and I'd love to be in it. I need to see this and see what's going on,’” he remembers thinking.
That wish came true when he became part of the ensemble in the original “Aladdin” national tour in 2017, and landed the lead role in 2018.
“I'm incredibly grateful to have had this crazy evolution of 'Aladdin' in my life, to be playing him now and to be telling this story to kids, to adults (of) all ages — to families,” said Greenspan, who stars in the title role as the musical’s national tour makes a stop at Salt Lake’s Eccles Theater April 25-May 12.
Greenspan's “Aladdin” evolution has been a personal one, but the Disney movie's journey is one fans of the film young and old have been a part of. The story, which began as a folktale of unverified origin, became a household tale withDisney’s Acadamy Award-winning animated adaptation. It made its way to the Great White Way in 2014 with a few tweaks to the story and several additional songs. And next month, Aladdin, Genie and Jasmine fly back onto the big screen with Disney’s live-action “Aladdin,” featuring composer Alan Menken’s now-beloved tunes as well as a few additional songs he wrote with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting duo that brought us “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”
“(The story of ‘Aladdin’) is never going to go stale,” Greenspan said.
Major Attaway, who plays the Genie on the tour and who also spent time in the role on Broadway, agrees.
"It's also a story that lends itself to being updated in a different way than some of the other Disney classics because it was a folk tale to begin with and it's timeless in that way,” he said. “It almost works like Shakespeare, you know, Agrabah could be anywhere.”
The enduring story, in Attaway’s mind, comes down to the “bromance,” romance and magic.
“Part of the story that I tell as the Genie is a story of friendship — it's really a bromance between Aladdin and the Genie, you know? He meets me and we both … realize that there are things that we can enhance about each other,” he said.
As for the romance, both Attaway and Greenspan said the cast refers to the show as “date night,” with Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship getting a bit more focus through additional songs not found in the 1992 film.
And the magic? That’s the Genie’s cup of tea.
"Getting to hear the audience and watch the Genie do his thing during 'Friend Like Me' never never grows old,” Greenspan said.
After three years with the show — between his time on Broadway as a standby in the role of Genie and as part of the national tour — it’s the magic that keeps Attaway coming back night after night.
“You have children who ask me (after the show) how real the magic really is, and then I have adults who say, 'I don't know how you did that,' which to me is the same question. You know, it's the same response. They got what they needed from that magical moment,” Attaway said. “… Whoever plays the Genie gets to flex all of their theatrical muscles in one production as well as be a character that everyone wants to love. … As an actor, a character like that is easy to get behind.”
Beyond the fun that comes from reliving the general nostalgia for the story, songs and characters, participating in “Aladdin” comes with its personal moments too for Greenspan. As a self-described “mama’s boy” who was raised by a single mother, Greenspan finds particular joy in the deeper relationship between Aladdin and his mother explained in the musical version, specifically in the song “Proud of Your Boy.” (The song was initially written to be included in the 1992 animated film but was ultimately cut.)
One special memory for Greenspan was when his mom came to see him perform in the “Aladdin” ensemble during the tour's stop in Chicago, only to see her son go on in place of the actor playing Aladdin that night, a fact Greenspan kept a secret from his mom until he ran onstage as the character.
“I always dedicate my show to her, but singing 'Proud of Your Boy' specifically (that night) … was a very special moment for me because I was singing to my mother who was physically there,” he said.
It’s creating human connections like this, both for himself and for members of the audience, that ultimately draws Greenspan to the story and, in his mind, makes it one that stands the test of time.
“There's multiple lessons to be learned (from the story), and for me to be relating to kids and adults in the audiences every night is a huge, huge gift,” he said.
If you go …
What: "Aladdin" national tour
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
When: April 25-May 12, dates and times vary
How much: $30-$145