When the news of Robin Williams' untimely passing broke on
Monday, a question quickly bubbled up within the Broadway community about how
to properly pay tribute to this much-beloved performer.
You see, while Williams was primarily known for his work in
stand-up, television and film, Robin also "trod the boards." He and
Steve Martin starred in Mike Nichols' 1988 off-Broadway version of
"Waiting for Godot." Williams also staged his own one-man show,
"Robin Williams: Live on Broadway," at the Broadway Theater back in
2002. And just three years ago, this Academy Award-winner made his official
Broadway debut by playing the title role in Rajiv Joseph's drama "Bengal
Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo."
Robin Williams in the 2011 production of "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"
And given that Williams got his start in the business by studying at Julliard in
the early 1970s ... Well, the Broadway League decided to honor Robin by having
all Broadway theaters dim their marquees in his memory for one minute later
this evening. This time-honored custom -- which is how the theater community
acknowledges the passing of one of its greats -- will happen at 7:45 p.m. just prior to the curtain going up.
Which is admittedly a wonderful gesture. But there were also
those within entertainment circles who wondered how Disney Theatrical would pay
tribute to Williams. Especially given that their most recent production -- the
Tony Award-winning "Aladdin" -- was so closely associated with this
late comic genius.
Well, the folks at Disney Theatrical weren't willing to wait
'til Wednesday night to honor Robin Williams. On Tuesday night, at the very
first performance of "Aladdin" following this performer's passing,
theatre-goers -- as they arrived at the New Amsterdam --
were handed a program with something extra stuffed inside. To be specific, it
was a lyric sheet for Howard Ashman & Alan Menken's "Friend Like
And after that ... The stage version of Disney "Aladdin" played out
as it always has. But as this two-and-a-half-hour-long musical comedy
extravaganza drew to a close and after the cast took their curtain calls, James
Monroe Iglehart -- the Tony Award-winner who plays the Genie in this acclaimed
Disney Theatrical production -- stepped forward and gestured for silence.
James Monroe Iglehart leads the singalong last night at the New AmsterdamTheatre. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
James started off by saying "... Yesterday, we lost not
a great comedian but one of the greatest entertainers of all time." Then
-- gesturing to a copy of that lyric sheet which Iglehart held in his hand --
he continued. "We're only going to do this once because we don't want to
drag something on, because -- first and foremost -- we want to give our hearts
& our thoughts & our prayers to his family. Because he's a husband and
a father first and an entertainer second."
And with that ... Well, as the video below shows, James led
all 1,702 people seated in the New Amsterdam in a
rousing rendition of "Friend Like Me." Backed up by the other 34 cast
members of Disney "Aladdin,"
Inglehart strode across the stage, making sure that it wasn't just the people
seated in the orchestra who were honoring Williams' memory by singing. James
made sure the folks seated in the mezzanine, balcony and the boxes at this
grand old Broadway theater helped raise the rafters in Robin's name.
There were both tears & applause as this heartfelt
version of "Friend Like Me" came to a close. And as the audience came
to his feet, Iglehart pointed a single finger skyward to pay tribute to a man
that he admitted (in a statement that James released to the press yesterday
afternoon) "... Although I never got to meet him in person, Robin Williams
has influenced my life greatly; his performance as the Genie, of course, and
his entire career as a great performer & actor. I'm extremely saddened by
his passing but first & foremost my heart, my thoughts & prayers go out
to the Williams family. They have lost a husband & father. We as fans have
lost one of the greatest entertainers ever."
This article originally appeared on the Entertainment page of the Huffington Post on August 13, 2014