I feel compelled to give two reviews of Aladdin. The first is for families thinking about taking small children or tweens to a Broadway extravaganza. From this perspective, the show will be an enjoyable and entertaining outing. The second critique is for everyone else (even though families are allowed to peek) that might want an in-depth appraisal for a more adult audience.
REVIEW ONE [For Families]--If you are looking for a big, splashy, colorful Broadway musical that will amaze the kids, have enough action and comedy for tweens, and plenty of spectacular dance numbers for everyone else then Aladdin, the latest Disney film to transfer to the Broadway stage, will be a perfect choice. Based on the 1992 musical fantasy, Aladdin has ample amounts of charm, pizzazz, and wondrous effects that most Disney musicals possess. It is a crowd pleaser that will make parents the heroes in their household.
REVIEW TWO [For Others]—My expectations for Aladdin were, maybe unrealistically, high since the only two previous occupants of the New Amsterdam Theatre were Mary Poppins (November 16, 2006 – March 3, 2013) and Lion King (November 13, 1997 – June 13, 2006). Aladdin is solidly good, sometimes great but, overall, enjoyable and energetically fine are apt descriptors. In the pantheon of Disney animated movies converted into Broadway musicals it ranks below Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, coming just ahead of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.
Unlike many musicals today, Aladdin begins with a sumptuous overture, which serves as a primer for the audience to the Disney magic to come. The Genie (James Monroe Iglehart) then enters the stage and welcomes the assembly with the large production number, “Arabian Nights,” an introductory song in the mode of “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast. Soon the stage is alive with delirious movement, colorful costumes, and fanciful sets of an Arabian land.
The Disney version of Aladdin is simple—boy (Aladdin) meets girl (Princess Jasmine), boy loses girl, boy (now in the guise of a prince) tries to woo girl and, finally, boy wins girl. Happy ending. Along the way our hero, his three knucklehead friends, and his newly acquired genie, must outwit the sinister Royal Vizier, Jafar, and his squat henchman, Iago, who are plotting to wrest control of the kingdom from Jasmine’s father, the Sultan.
Aladdin is more cartoonish then its long-running predecessors, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. Those two musicals came across as fully fleshed out animated features with depth and pathos. The current show doesn’t take itself as seriously—the book by Chad Beguelin incorporates numerous puns and silly jokes--which heavily influences the production’s pastiche of various styles and manners.
The real star of the show is James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. He doesn’t appear that often on stage, but when he does hold onto your seats. In the musical number, “Friend Like Me,” he gives an absolute tour-de-force performance. With the full Broadway razz-ma-tazz treatment and inspired zaniness you almost forget the Robin Williams voiced character from the film.
The rest of the cast is first-rate. Adam Jacobs as Aladdin is handsome, athletic, and posses a million watt smile. He has a charming and engaging playfulness that connects wholeheartedly with the audience. Courtney Reed’s role of Jasmine doesn’t really allow her to stretch her acting talents, but it does give her the opportunity to portray a Disney princess, one who is strong-willed, independent-minded and beautiful. She and Aladdin do make a dazzling pair. Jonathan Freeman, a musical theater veteran (and the only performer in history to voice a character in a Disney film and then recreate the role on Broadway) plays Jafar with a comedic malevolency as opposed to the usually quite frightening Disney villain. Don Darryl Rivera as his short, dumpy, simpleminded sidekick, Iago, provides an amusing contrast to the ultra-serious Jafar. The two make a wonderful team. Aladdin’s three amigos—Babkak (Brian Gonzales), Kassim (Brandon O’Neil), and Omar (Jonathan Schwartz)—are funny, irreverent, and just plain goofy. They provide periodic flippant interludes, which adds to the charm of the show.
The score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, is lively and bouncy. The standouts songs are the same from the film version, “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “A Whole New World,” which has Aladdin and Princess Jasmine flying about the New Amsterdam Theatre stage on a magic carpet. It is a stunning effect and beautifully presented.
Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw helms the musical with confidence and authority. The one thing you can’t say about the show is it drags or isn’t energized enough. While there is more high-stepping production numbers then all this season’s new musicals combined, the choreography, which starts out in grand fashion, becomes simply routine and more repetitive and less original as the show goes on.
Aladdin, while charming and fun, lacks the enchantment and savviness of Disney’s most notable theatrical productions.