BWW Reviews: Broadway Bound ALADDIN Opens in Toronto
It was a true 'Arabian Night' in Toronto where the Broadway bound production of Disney's Aladdin had it's 'world premiere' last night. Promising to be a revamped interpretation of the classic 1992 cartoon film, the show had the unbelievable sights but sadly struggled with the indescribable feelings.
The story is the same one you know and love - street rat Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed), gets caught up in evil Jafar's (Jonathan Freeman) scheme and finds a magic lamp containing a genie (James Monroe Iglehar) who promises to grant him three wishes.
With the adaptations made to bring the show to the stage, gone are Aladdin's cheeky monkey pal Abu (replaced by a boy band-esque trio played by Brian Gonzales, Brandon O'Neill and Jonathan Schwartz) and Iago the parrot is now a cartoonish human sidekick played by Don Darryl Rivera. The beloved songs remain the same, and Alan Menken has added a few new tunes designed to add depth and further the storyline.
The problem is, Chad Beguelin's book fails to make us truly care for the characters - and the special effects can only take the show so far when the investment at the heart of the story isn't making the connection it should. It felt as though the book concentrated too hard on adding cheesy 'current affair' style jokes (think pop culture references and an odd ode to Disney style number) and clunky one-liners instead of giving depth and material to Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie.
Problems aside, there's still a lot of magic in Aladdin. The sights are impressive (despite some cheap looking set pieces by Bob Crowley) and there is some incredible staging by Casey Nicholaw. 'Arabian Nights' opened the show with a bang, drawing the audience into the middle East world and showing off the stellar triple threats within the cast.
Jacobs is likeable and endearing in the title role, with a beautiful voice and a boyish charm that makes you root for him from his opening number. He gets a new Act One song titled 'Proud of Your Boy' in which he sings to his dead mother - but while the song is sweet and catchy, it doesn't tug at the heart strings the way that it should.
Courtney Reed flounders a bit as Princess Jasmine, teetering between overly feisty and strangely demure instead of striking the all important balance of a girl who has a fire inside her but who (at her core) is still incredibly naive. In addition, the chemistry between the Princess and Aladdin never quite takes off, though the duo sound incredible on 'A Whole New World'.
Jonathan Freeman is a delightful Jafar, his familiar voice (he voiced the character for the film) booming through the audience like an old friend you didn't realie you had missed. He's evil without being terribly scary and funny without devolving into cartoon schlock. As his sidekick Iago, Don Darryl Rivera gets some of the biggest laughs of the night and shows off a good sense of comic timing that help him land some of the show's better jokes.
Last but most certainly not least is James Inglehart Monroe's loveable, over the top and hilarious Genie - the emobidement of Disney magic coupled with boundless energy and incredible stage presence. He steals every scene he's in, and his work (along with the ensemble) in 'A Friend Like Me' is the definition of a show stopping number. It's where all the magic comes together - the ensemble shines, Inglehart Monroe radiates and Casey Nicholaw's impressive choreography bring the house down. It's classic Disney, and unabashedly fun.
Finally, there is the magic carpet. Aladdin wouldn't be the same without the trip across the sky that serves as the catalyst for our two leads to fall in love. When the carpet first appears with Jacob's Aladdin standing proudly atop it, there were audible gasps from the audience. When our lovebirds soar across the night sky (accented by a stunning moon and twinkling stars) you felt like you were soaring with them.