Theater Review: ALADDIN (National Tour)

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by Frank Arthur on January 12, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


“Open sesame” indeed. It’s “Abracadabra” times ten as the arrival of Aladdin in Hollywood 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 is a fun escape from what ails you. Everything that worked in two dimensions now soars and shines in three. This paradisiacal national tour, currently at the Hollywood Pantages (which appropriately has an interior design that looks like the Cave of Wonders), Broadway’s 2014 record-breaker earns its expectations by astonishing its audiences in glorious scene after sumptuous episode. Yeah, it refuses to breathe for a moment (some characterizations are forced, the ballads are rushed, and the poor genie was gasping for breath after the first-act tap-dancing extravaganza), but it’s all silly fun sprinkled with messages of self-worth.

Adding three songs not included in the film by the late lyricist Howard Ashman 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 rat” and opportunistic thief, manages to free a loquacious genie (Michael James Scott) 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 both incognito and cute 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 (Zach 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. Given the subtle trickery that matches Aladdin’s feral courage, will merit win out over malice? Will the genie win his freedom, making the lamp simply one more Oriental antique?

The show’s wish-fulfilling plot is merely a stalwart excuse for Casey Nicholaw’s soaring 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, Mr. Scott honors the late Robin Williams’ manic mirth, but he’s so frenzied that this delirious djinn, a rather queeny Genie, can barely keep up with himself; still, the crowd adores this 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 (the heart-tugging“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). As his sidekick, the oddly shaped De Leon is oddly unfunny.

Despite Beguelin’s book, marred by a jokey-to-glib penchant for hip pop-culture references, and Nicholaw’s locomotive direction (with choreography that blends old-school vaudeville with reliably “exotic” high-step hoofing), there’s enchantment galore. And the cast is having a blast.

photos by Deen van Meer and Cylla von Tiedemann

North American tour
reviewed at Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
ends in Los Angeles on March 31, 2018
for L.A. tickets, call 866-870-2717 or visit Pantages
tour continues into 2019
for dates and cities,
visit Aladdin the Musical

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