BWW Reviews: ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH Brings Holiday Cheer to Pasadena Playhouse
For a few years the prolific Lythgoe family have been entertaining us at Christmastime, first at the El Portal in NoHo and now at the Pasadena Playhouse with a British style panto. A panto is an interactive entertainment that starts with a very contemporary retelling of a fairy tale such as Snow White, Cinderella, or in this case Aladdin and turns it into a fun imaginative show with music that will appeal to both children and their parents. There's usually an actor in drag (outrageous Bruce Vilanch as the Widow Twankey, Aladdin's mother), a villain (Josh Adamson as Abanazar) and audience are encouraged to root for the heroes and HISS loudly at the villains. Actors such as Adamson tease the audience with a Mel Brooks-like phrase "It's fun to be evil!" after which kids and adults boo and boo some more and even raise up props such as swords and other toy weapons in defense of their favorite hero. It's all in amusement, of course, and this year's Aladdin and His Winter Wish is by far the best show to date with a superlative cast, great special effects, some spectacular dancing and singing and an overall jolly good script by Kris Lythgoe that flows along without the slightest snag.
It would be unfair to say that young JorDan Fisher steals the show, but he does come pretty close with his great voice and uncanny acrobatic movements about the stage and into the audience. He makes an Aladdin to root for, a downtrodden street rat who becomes a prince charming through luck, a lot of magic and a strong belief in wishing for what you really want. Shining brightly right by his side is Ashley Argota as the Princess. She's beautiful, feisty and an equal musical match for Fisher. Ben Giroux is a scream as Wishee Washee, Aladdin's comic brother who leads the audience participation throughout and does most of the pratfalls like second bananas Stan Laurel or Tommy Smothers. He's the little nerdy guy that you just cannot help but love. As the Sultan there's sturdily off-kilter Richard Karn, as the mother wildly enjoyable Vilanch who pulls out all the stops musically and comedically to get laughs...and the piece de resistance Ben Vereen as the Genie, who looks and moves with more spirit and fire than ever. I saw him in Pippin on Broadway almost 40 years ago, and every ounce of that phenomenal talent is still working in his favor. Josh Adamson's Abanazar is a down and dirty meanie full of nasty intentions, and his transformation into someone repentant at the end is deliciously good-natured. Praise as well to the ensemble of dancers and guards and to the Purple team of kids who added so much to the dance numbers, wondrously choreographed by Spencer Liff. Director Bonnie Lithgoe has impeccably staged the piece whose sets and costumes by Albermarle Productions just sparkle.
There are some great golden oldie hit tunes afloat like "You Don't Know Me", "Old Time Rock and Roll", "I'm Too Sexy"and "Walking on Sunshine" to delight you, especially with the amazing Michael Orland conducting the orchestra, so run to get tix, as most of these shows will sell out fast. Bring the kids of all ages, and in the courtyard there's Santa, some carolers, games and even a live camel to enthrall the proceedings....and snow...in the desert?! Aladdin and His Winter Wish is a real Christmas blast.