When Walt Disney Productions released the film Aladdin in 1992 it felt like such a different kind of animated feature. More than ever before, that Disney film was sophisticated and adult…and you could bring the kids. The reverse has happened now that the property has been revamped for Broadway. Although you can still bring the kids, the story has become childish. The show is ballooned with extra material—some of it worth it and some of it padding—with sets that resemble an elaborate children’s pop-up book and costumes more glittery than Las Vegas or Tinkerbell could deliver and as many magic tricks as a David Copperfield show. To say that it is eye-popping is an understatement. This is a theme park show on crack.
In true Disney form, the show offers several new effects not seen on stage before in quite this way. One delight is the way the Genie, played by the relentlessly energetic James Monroe Iglehart, spirals out of the smoke from under the stage. We’ve seen people, props and scenery come out of the stage on lifts for years, but this particular version, which mimics the swirl of the smoke itself, is very clever indeed. There is the delight of the flying carpet sequence during the singing of “A Whole New World,” which is (we assume) being handled in much the same way as that star vehicle, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, got off the ground and it works beautifully. That moment is nearly worth the price of admission, but Disney has packed the production with so much more.
The way in which the show is packed with too much has to do with constant bombast from every department. This comes in the form of hoary jokes from the villains and the sidekicks, from the dozens of sequined costumes and one big production number more than any show requires—namely the added “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim.” The number is fun for fun’s sake, but also serves to show the disguised Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) sneaking about the market place enjoying how the average people live. That episode could have been done without a bloated number when you consider the show opens with the big full cast establishing number, “Arabian Nights” and ends with the excellent “Friend Like Me,” which pulls out all the stops. There is also the busy “One Jump Ahead” in the first half, which has Aladdin climbing up and jumping from building to building while being chased by sword swinging guards.
The second act opens with “Prince Ali,” which was a spectacular sequence in the film and the stage version matches it. Another big sword swinging number comes in the form of “High Adventure.” In contrast there is a more subtle up tune that serves the show well: “Somebody’s Got Your Back.”
Two new ballads are introduced with the best a solo for Aladdin placed as the third song into the story, “Proud of Your Boy.” This is the character’s missing “want” song that was cut from the film. It is a wonderful musical theatre song that should find a healthy life of its own in cabaret, concert and audition circuits. There is a sweet duet for Aladdin and Jasmine after they first meet, “A Million Miles Away,” that shows us how similar and therefore perfect for each other the pair really are.
As for the title character, he is usually played by Adam Jacobs, but on the night I caught the show he was played by Joshua Dela Cruz, who was extremely likable and had a terrific voice with which to put over Alan Menken’s tuneful score. Miss Reed’s Jasmine is full of spunk, sings with pretty tones and looks just like the animated version. Mr. Iglehart’s Genie boarders on stereotypical Harlem Black (he even wears a zoot suit), but it is somehow OK as it is clear that the actor is infusing the character with his own brand of humor and effectively erases the memory of the Robin Williams performance. The real pleasure is the maniacal performance of Jonathan Freeman as Jafar, who makes Broadway history by originating the role on stage that he voiced in the animated film.
Alan Menken can be trusted to always give us a modern, yet tuneful musical theater score and it is his contribution, along with the lyrics of Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin and the late Howard Ashman, that dignify the show. Bob Crowley’s sets manage to achieve all the fantasy and bigness of the story with unity. The afore mentioned glittery costumes by Gregg Barnes are individually amazing creations, but there is the feeling of spangled overkill. One can look at the staging by Casey Nicholaw as one of the culprits of making Aladdin over-blown, but just as easily commend him for keeping control of the reins. Perhaps he put on the show the family audience for which this production is aimed is expecting and short of a trip to Walt Disney World, it will satisfy.
For more information and tickets go to www.aladdinthemusical.com.