Theater Review: ALADDIN (North American Tour)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 20, 2017

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


“Open sesame” indeed! It’s “Abracadabra” times ten as the arrival of Aladdin in Chi-town feels as triumphant as Prince Ali’s magnificent entrance into Agrabah at the top of the second act. A theme park of a musical, Disney Theatrical Productions’ eye-popping transformation of the 1992 film into an Arabian Nights/Shangri-La/Alhambra-rich fantasyland can be seen but still not believed. Everything that worked in two dimensions now soars and shines in three. Beginning a paradisiacal national tour at, appropriately, the Palace Theatre, Broadway’s 2014 record-breaker earns its expectations by astonishing its audiences in glorious scene after sumptuous episode.

Adding three songs by the late lyricist Howard Ashman not included in the film and four new songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Chad Beguelin, Aladdin restores a legend to even more abundant life than the screen could deliver. A Horatio Alger-style rags-to-riches success story drenched in Islamic make-believe, it’s the saga of an all-deserving title hero: Aladdin (Adam Jacobs, reprising his Broadway role), a “street Arab” and opportunistic thief, manages to free a loquacious genie (the irrepressible Anthony Murphy, honoring Robin Williams’ manic mirth) from a spell and a lamp.

Wise beyond his years and always “One Jump Ahead,” Aladdin puts his three magic wishes to good use to win the hand of the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla) whom he meets, incognito and in love, in the bustling market place. Tired of vapid suitors who only seek her wealth and the chance to become sultan, bored with a lifetime of gilded isolation (“These Palace Walls”), Jasmine, daughter of the devoted Sultan (JC Montgomery), is eager to join the “High Adventure” of Aladdin and his prankster entourage/posse–Babkak (Zachary Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo) and Kassim (Mike Longo).

Notwithstanding Aladdin’s certainty to succeed (“Somebody’s Got Your Back”), the mismatched lovers must be star-crossed too: Aided by his toady Iago (Reggie De Leon), evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir), the Sultan’s grand vizier, plots to expose the suddenly munificent “Prince Ali” as an unworthy beggar boy (“Diamond in the Rough”). Worse, he craves Jasmine for himself—and, even more, to gain control of the lamp and total power.

But [spoiler alert for the few who haven’t seen the film], given the subtle trickery that matches Aladdin’s feral courage, merit wins out over malice: The Sultan and his daughter discover Aladdin’s natural nobility, democratic desert to make him a worthy successor to the sultan. (So much for Jasmine expecting her “blue blood” to let her reach the throne. Maybe when Mulan comes to Broadway…) Like miracle-making Ariel at the end of The Tempest, our Genie gets his wishes granted too and wins his freedom. The lamp will simply become one more Oriental antique.

The show’s wish-fulfilling plot is merely a stalwart excuse for Casey Nicholaw’s extravaganza/spectacle. As delicately decorative as impressively ornate, set designer Bob Crowley’s Arabesque wonderland is, quite simply, a ravishing feast for the eyes. We delight in the sights—the gloriously technicolor Casbah, the coruscating golden treasures of the Cave of Wonders, the rampaging roofs of the city, and the filigreed arches and entrances of the royal palace; you’d swear they invented new colors just for this stage!

Most enthrallingly effortless: Aladdin and Jasmine’s breathtaking magic carpet ride across an emblazoned night sky to rival the real one. This crowning illusion is imaginatively and deliciously detailed and constantly surprising.

Whether in an incongruous zoot suit or resplendent threads, Murphy’s delirious djinn, a rather queeny Genie, is a one-man laugh factory: His first-act finale “Friend Like Me,” where one special effect follows another pyrotechnic dazzler, absolutely destroys the house. Not allergic to family sentiment (“Proud of Your Boy”), Jacobs’ urchin prince combines pluck with luck as self-inventive Aladdin/Ali. McCalla’s righteously royal Jasmine delivers inspiration enough (“A Million Miles Away”) for happiness and hijinks. Together they really do evoke “A Whole New World.” Weir effectively delivers your standard-issue Disney villain (minus any poisoned apple). Nicholaw’s choreography blends old-school vaudeville with reliably “exotic” high-step hoofing.

Despite Beguelin’s book, marred by a jokey-to-glib penchant for hip pop-culture references, it’s hard to imagine a more enchanted evening. The spells cast by Aladdin are more potent than any the Genie endures. They may last as long as well.

photos by Deen van Meer

first leg of the North American tour
reviewed at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St
ends in Chicago on September 10, 2017
for Chicago tickets, call 800.775.2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago
tour continues into 2019
for dates and cities, visit Aladdin the Musical

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