Theater Review: ALADDIN (National Tour)

Post image for Theater Review: ALADDIN (National Tour)

by Marc Wheeler on September 15, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Huzzah! As if by magic carpet, Aladdin—the stage musical—has flown into the City of Angels for a two-week stint at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Based on Disney’s 1992 animated film, this touring production of the 2011 Broadway musical is a bold, colorful retelling of the well-known Arabian folk tale. Lavishly directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and written by legendaries of the Disney Renaissance (Alan Menken—music; Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin—lyrics; Beguelin—book), the production offers audiences fresh theatrics while still honoring the original vision of its source material. Even with its mixed-bag of extras (an hour of new material, including new and formerly cut songs), it’s a dazzling production that, like Frozen, offers enough reasons for revisiting a beloved Disney tale.

Marcus M Martin as Genie with Company

Set in the timeless, fictional city of Agrabah, this rags-to-riches story is one of entrapment and escape. It centers on thieving “street rat” Aladdin who—with the help of a wish-granting genie —sets out to win over a princess who has stolen his heart. Meanwhile, a villainous grand vizier plots against him while scheming to overtake the sultan’s throne.

Considering the musical genius of Menken and Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), Rice (The Lion King, Aida), and Beguelin (The Wedding Singer, The Prom), it’s no wonder Aladdin’s score has delighted audiences for the past 30 years. Fans of the original film will be happy to know that all their favorite songs—expertly orchestrated by Danny Troob and conducted by James Dodgson—are still intact.

Adi Roy as Aladdin

While “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali” are highlights, on Opening Night the song “One Jump Ahead,” despite the enjoyable nature of the piece, suffered from an imbalance in sound design (Ken Travis) that rendered most of its lyrics unintelligible. Less noteworthy are many of the added songs, including “These Palace Walls” (Jasmine’s first solo number), “A Million Miles Away,” “Diamond in the Rough,” and a song cut from the original film but propped up here with multiple reprises, “Proud of Your Boy,” a ballad from Aladdin to his late mother. While not necessarily bad, these new “filler songs” don’t live up to their more iconic counterparts. That said, “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “High Adventures” come close.Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is the seminal love ballad “A Whole New World” (Jeremy Chernick—special effects; Jim Steinmeyer, Rob Lake—illusions). Fans of the films will note that this is where Aladdin flies Princess Jasmine high above the city on his magic carpet. As an admitted softie, I really wanted this moment to—both figuratively and literally—soar (the carpet flies over the audience on Broadway). But, sadly, it’s mechanical, hokey, and over before you know it. Like a kids’ ride at Disneyland, there’s a few ups, downs, and turns before it lowers its riders back to safety. (Exit to your right, folks.)

Senzel Ahmady as Jasmine and Adi Roy Aladdin

On a more positive note is newcomer Adi Roy (Jagged Little Pill) in the titular role. With brazen self-assurance, he exhibits a youthful relatability in Aladdin’s rocky pursuit of love and moral fortitude. Such a charmer. Matching him in overall appeal is the sultry-voiced Senzel Ahmady as Jasmine. Her princess is both strong-willed and vulnerable—an enticing combination for the princely pauper.

With a physicality as big as his infectious personality, Marcus M. Martin is a showstopper as Genie. With a booming voice and hilarious comedic wit, he steals every scene he’s in. “Friend Like Me” is his biggest moment to shine. Extended with brand new jokes, fourth wall-jumping anachronisms, and a crowd-pleasing medley, this high-energy song-and-dance extravaganza is arguably the production’s best number.

Anand Nagraj as Jafar and Aaron Choi as Iago

With a Tweedle-dum/dee quality, Anand Nagraj and Aaron Choi are delightful as the evil-laughing villains. As the grand vizier, Jafar, the deep-voiced Nagraj is campy and sinister, while Choi makes for the perfect sidekick as Jafar’s (no longer parrot, but human) assistant, Iago—even, at times, getting laughs from his hair (Josh Marquette) and costumes alone.While this production is certainly “family-friendly,” I couldn’t help but notice the very thing that Disney imagined would be too “distracting” for their 2019 “live-action” remake: skin. Here, Gregg Barnes not only costumes the players in the most beautifully colorful outfits, he also showcases many bare muscles and curves of their athletic physiques—as did the original Disney animation that inspired them both (if only, of course, on cartoons). But let’s be real, it’s the scorching Middle East and these actor-singer-dancers are sweating their butts off: it’s HOT. (And that’s all … ahem … I’m gonna say about that.)

Adi Roy as Aladdin

Providing backdrop to Barnes’ aesthetics are Bob Crowley’s set and Daniel Brodie’s projections. A particular standout is the cave wherein dwells the genie’s lamp amidst a treasure trove of wonders—I’ve never seen such sparkle!—all spectacularly lit by Natasha Katz’s desert-bright lighting.

Disney, as of late, has moved in directions—political, artistic, and otherwise—that have alienated a sizable number of its (former) fanbase. Some, simply, aren’t coming back. But for those who would, those pining for the Mouse’s “glory years,” this production, I’d wager, could serve as a welcome homecoming or balm of nostalgia. Ardent supporters, too, will likely find this production a satisfying way of re-experiencing a classic. To which I extend my hand and, in the words of Aladdin himself, ask: “Do you trust me? … Then jump!”

Marcus M Martin, Adi Roy and Company

photos by Deen van Meer

second North American tour
reviewed at Hollywood Pantages; ends in L.A. September 23, 2023
tour continues into 2024
for dates and cities, visit Aladdin the Musical

plays So Cal again in Costa Mesa – Segerstrom Center for the Arts
May 7-12, 2024

Leave a Comment