IVINS — Based on an animated film that contains a larger than life Genie, a mystical Cave of Wonders, magic carpet rides and talking animals, Aladdin is an unlikely candidate for adaptation to a stage musical. Most people are asking, will Disney be able to pull this one off? But this is Disney; of course they can pull it off. But rather than give a mechanical rendition of the movie, librettist Chad Beguelin drew on pop culture references like, Extreme Makeover, Beiber Fever, Beyonce, Slumdog Millionaire, and the iPhone (in addition to Disney standbys like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Mickey Mouse). These changes update this 20-year-old classic from the creative team of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and and make it accessible to today’s audience.
The most significant addition to the script in the story is Aladdin’s back up troupe of friends, Kassim (Todd Dubail), Omar (Randy Aaron) and Babkak (Paul Vogt). The trio serves as narrators, Greek chorus, and comedic relief throughout the night.
Director Scott S. Anderson has accomplished some amazing feats with this production. Most notable and enjoyable was something I’ve never seen in the theater: a 3D adventure written and created by Anderson. As Aladdin ventures into the Cave of Wonders, the audience is prompted to put 3D glasses on. What follows is a spectacular mix of 3D visual projections (which interact with the actors) and a unique technical experience. While the 3D animations were certainly not the crisp HD visions seen in a move theater, it was still delightful and something I would have loved to see more of throughout the night.
Another change made in the story is the elimination of the animal characters. In fact, at one point the Genie appears and asks where the monkey and parrot from the film are. After a brief look around, he concludes that the budget must have been blown on the live camels.
However, all the spectacle and theatricality would be wasted without a strong and talented cast. Jeff Asch plays Iago, the sidekick to bad man Jafar (Michael G. Hawkins). In the stage version Iago is not a parrot, but a show-stealing human. Asch is noticeably shorter than his cast mates, and with his small stature comes remarkable comedy. From twirling about stage, quirky sound effects and the off hand muttered comments, Asch gave a delightful performance.
Princess Jasmine, played by the beautiful Haley Carlucci, reminded me of Princess Amneris from Aida. She was strong willed and held a twinkle in her eyes as she playfully defied her fathers wishes in “Call me a Princess.” Aladdin (Dan Domenech) was charismatic in my favorite song, “One Jump Ahead,” as he expertly escaped the clutches of law enforcement. With a brilliant smile that could light up the last row, he captivated and charmed his way into my heart. While Domenech was delightful in the playful aspects of his role, I longed for a deeper connection in the beautiful ballad “Proud of Your Boy.” Yet, the chemistry that Domenech had with Carlucci won me over as the two dazzled me with the duet “A Million Miles Away.”
The genie (Edward Juvier), sporting blue tennis shows, bounced off the walls with remarkable energy and likeability, while Jafar (Hawkins) was a perfectly balanced bad guy soaring through the stage with an amazing voice and an effortless evil laugh.
The new troupe of friends sang through two wonderful new catchy songs (“Babkak, Omar, Aladdin and Kassim” and “High Adventure”). It was also great fun to watch the choreographed fight scene (created by John B. Williford) that the three friends had. However, this is where the new production of Aladdin could use some work. With the addition of the three best friends, it would have been nice to see more interaction between them and Aladdin to solidify the relationships. While all three actors playing the friends were talented and made for easy watching, the script for these three felt forced and—as the characters themselves said—simply a device used to cover scene changes.
Breaking the fourth wall in theater can be wonderful when done correctly, like in The Drowsy Chaperone. The first few times this happened (such as when Kassim entered the audience to check a playbill) were funny, but the joke wore stale quickly and only served to draw attention to the lagging and noisy scene transitions.
Overall the costumes (Wilma Mickler) and makeup were done well. Aladdin and Jasmine were exactly as I imagined they should be, and Jafar’s costumes were especially captivating. However, the blue makeup and bald piece for Genie looked like just that—a blue painted bald piece. I think that a head piece similar to what was seen in the Broadway version of Shrek would work much better). And while the wigs (Matthew Reeves Oliver) were styled beautifully, they didn’t seem to fit the actors well. Often I could see the actors’ hair and the fabric piece at the top of the forehead, which was somewhat distracting.
Having just seen Newsies on Broadway, another Alan Menken production, I was spoiled with some absolutely outstanding Tony award winning choreography. The choreography (Deanna Dys) for Aladdin was fun and energetic, but it wasn’t without its problems. From a few stumbled lifts to synchronization being slightly lost at times, the dancing in Aladdin could use some tightening up.
Finally, the lighting (Bruce L. Duerden) and direction by Anderson in the use of the natural landscape was brilliant. Aladdin is a story set in the desert and making the choice to have some of the action lit and occurring on the backdrop of the Tuacahn stage was breathtaking.
Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney movies and I was thrilled with this production. With a magic carpet ride that allows prince and princess to journey over the heads of the audience members, water works, pyrotechnics, real camels, horses and a genie with a hilarious personality, Aladdin is an absolute crowd pleaser. It truly is a theatrical treat.