Disney's "Aladdin" has found its way to the Great White Way and riding on its coattails are vibrant beautiful sets and costumes, a ensemble of men who can easily be labeled the new Village People and enough magic to sustain even the toughest critics.
First with the magic. One would suspect theatre magic, in the case of "Aladdin," would be the seemly and effortless staging of the magic carpet ride, made famous in the animated film the show is based upon. While that scene is wondrous and made even more beautiful by the lighting design of Natasha Katz, the true magic in the show is James Monroe Iglehart.
The reason I go to live theatre is to experience magic: theatre moments that stop shows and give you goose bumps, all while thinking the performer on stage has to to re-create that moment eight times a week.
Iglehart delivers many magical moments like this in the role of the Genie. But the true defining moment is his "Friend Like Me" number in which he sings, dances and cartwheels, stopping the show with a long and thunderous applause. This is his "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" moment in which he soars into our hearts without the benefit of visual effects, but with his own larger than life talent that will stand out of one of the greatest moments in theatre history. Apparently, I am not alone in my opinion as Iglehart is nominated for a Tony Award as well as a Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards. (The musical itself is also up for Best Musical at the Tony Awards).
As a fan of the Bay Area native, I expect a lot from Iglehart, having loved his work in Broadway's "Memphis," in which his work was so impressive that the producers of that show decided to expand his part on its long road to the New York stage.
In "Aladdin," Iglehart more than fills the shoes of movie voice actor Robin Williams, which is a feat in itself. (A feat to fill shoes?) Iglehart makes the part his own and captures you from the opening number and never lets you go.
Fortunately, "Aladdin" isn't a one man show even though he is quite the standout in a cast of talented actors, singers and dancers.
Lead Adam Jacobs is in fine voice and looks quite appealing in his shirtless vest. His trio of sidekicks of Brian Gonzales, Brandon O'Neill and Jonathan Schwartz also have a lot of appeal. But all of these men have serious competition for gay theatregoers who like their man candy as the baker's dozen of ensemble actors who represent almost every ethnic culture. These hot and talented performers can easily be considered the new Village People and offer an array of appeal for everyone to enjoy.
The gay aspects of "Aladdin" are buried in so much double entendre that it still makes for a great family outing. Fortunately, there's enough shade and camp, that I feel I might be "outting" the show promoting its obvious gay appeal which doesn't really seem to be so identified with the family friend Disney.
The show is not 100% about the men. Courtney Reed is a luminous Princess Jasmine and Jonathan Freeman's droll Jafar makes a great adversary (with Don Darryl Rivera as his scene stealing sidekick). It's also good to see Clifton Davis again even though his part seems underwritten.
Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeps the show running at a breezy pace and Gregg Barnes' costumes are lush, vibrant and colorful, making the show a wonder from any seat.
The Alan Menken and Howard Ashman songs from the movie version also are all in tact and make it easy to hum your way out of the theatre. With the passing of Ashman, new song lyrics from Tim Rice and/or Chad Beguelin are pleasant enough, but none of the new songs are as memorable as the original score even though they do help advance the plot.
With the vibrant colors and lighting, memorable songs, sexy ensemble men and crowning performance of James Monroe Iglehart, Disney's "Aladdin" is one magic carpet ride you will always remember.
To get tickets and information, go to www.aladdinthemusical.com.