SALT LAKE CITY — Excited to be invited to review the Broadway at the national touring production of Aladdin over this last weekend, I had high expectations. And I was not disappointed.
Disney’s hit Broadway musical Aladdin with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, and book by Chad Beguelin, is still the story of a street rat who discovers a magic lamp containing a genie and how he and the princess, Jasmine, fall in love. This production has many of loved musical numbers such as, “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me,” “A Whole New World,” and “Prince Ali.” However, Aladdin has three side kick buddies and no pet monkey, while Jasmine has three female attendants instead of a pet tiger.
The vocal standout in the this production was definitely Kaenaonalani Kekoa in her performance as Jasmine. Her high range in “Palace Walls” sent thrilling chills running down my spine. Kekoa did well at playing an intelligent princess with real frustrations, but not being whiny about her troubles. She was believable in her ease and ignorance while exploring the market place. One moment that this really showed was when she picked up an apple from a vendor in the market to hand to a beggar and got accused of being a thief. I loved the ease with which she picked up the apple and how quickly she was thought to act like she was crazy when the guards arrived. Kekoa’s character felt well developed and very natural.
Aladdin, played by Clinton Greenspan, was also a solid performer with strong voice. As he was singing “Proud of Your Boy,” he would jerk his head to the left frequently, which I found a bit distracting despite his pleasing vocal performance. Greenspan did well at establishing natural relationships with the other characters. As a result, his desire to use his third wish to free the Genie felt genuine, as did the conflict to use that third wish to not lose Jasmine. Aladdin is a character who helps others and not just himself, a quality I hadn’t thought about until watching this production.
Genie, played by Major Attaway, was definitely a life force in this production. His high energy and charismatic personality bought the Genie to life, drawing the audience into the show. His showcase piece was definitely “Friend Like Me,” which required so much energy and enthusiasm, but Attaway was up for the task. Many who grew up with the 1992 Disney animated film version of Aladdin have a soft spot for Genie as portrayed by Robin Williams. For some of the role of Genie could never be filled by anyone else, but for me Attaway more than exceeded my expectations and hopes that the character of the Genie and was more endearing and real.
My favorite number in this production was “High Adventure.” This song showcased the talents of Aladdin’s sidekicks: Babkak (played by Zach Bencal), Omar (played by Ben Chavez), and Kassim (played by Colt Pratte). I loved how their voices blended in perfect three part harmony and how each character’s personality brought variety to the performance. For instance, Kassim is showing off as he sings, but he is gets dangerously near the end of his range . . . when in walks Babkak, who beautifully belts out the high note with bravado and then turns to Kassim and says, “You’re welcome.” During the fights with the palace guard Kassim bravely uses his weapon, while Babkak fights with a cooked fowl that he was eating, and Omar tries to avoid the guards. The physical comedy in the the number was well balanced with strong singing and Casey Nicholaw‘s choreography and direction. The sword fighting in this number drew special attention to the live orchestra with perfectly in time clangs of the sword blades.
In the costuming (designed by Jack Galloway and Sky Switser), the costumes were all colorful traditional Arabian style. I found it interesting to note that the more poor a man was the less turn-up there was to his shoes. Aladdin and his trio of friends all more of a like loafer shoe, while the majority of the male ensemble playing wealthier characters had the traditional turn up of the shoe. Another class-based pattern was apparent in the fact that the more money the characters had, the more sparkle to sequins to the costumes. I was also wowed in “Friend Like Me” that every change of dance style was accompanied by a costume change to match. And delightful little Arabian flairs remained on each costume style such as the turned up toes on the tap shoes.
As a former scenic artist, I always appreciate at good set. This set design by Paul Atkinson and Ros Coombes had several locations, and each was grand and full of color. I enjoyed the fabrics and ribbons that created a ceiling over the market place. This reminded me of a market place I saw while traveling in the Middle East. I also enjoyed the amount of dimension on the cityscape behind Aladdin’s pad. The scrollwork on the palace set pieces was beautiful and intricate. The trees in the palace also doubled as large lanterns. There were so many beautiful details in this set to discuss here, I could go to the show again just to see the sets.
This production of Aladdin is so incredibly well rounded with great performers, fantastic choreography, wonderful sets and tech. The only flaws I caught the whole night were a couple of brief microphone issues. In traditional Disney style, this production of Aladdin is appropriate for kids while being enjoyable for adults.