BWW Review: ALADDIN at Hippodrome Theatre
If you're looking for "A Whole New World" to break up the monotony of your week, look no further than the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. Disney Theatrical Productions has done it again with its National Tour of Aladdin: another movie-to-musical hit that stays true to the core of the story while adding elements meant to dazzle live audiences.
Starting with "Arabian Nights," the song has been elevated from a solo act in the original movie to a showstopping opening number. With vibrant costumes, fast-paced choreography, and strong vocals, audiences were enchanted within the first 10 minutes. Soon after, set pieces glided across the stage and fit together like puzzle pieces during "One Jump Ahead," which kept the energy on stage moving rapidly to give audiences a sense of what life in Agrabah is like.
Fully embracing the titular role, Jonah Ho'okano was a believable Aladdin who captures the essence of a dreamer trying to make something for himself but can't seem to catch a break. His charisma and physicality were spot on, not to mention his voice was absolutely gorgeous with a lovely vibrato. In "Proud of Your Boy" for example, the audience sensed every emotion throughout each note and felt for him instantly.
As Aladdin's love interest Jasmine, Kaenaonālani Kekoa was everything the audience could have wished for in the role: she had a fiery energy and a good sense of humor, with a fantastic belt for the songs we've all grown to love. Her harmonies with the female attendants in "These Palace Walls" seemed effortless, and her blend with Ho'okana in "A Million Miles Away" was lovely. Although these songs were not in the original movie, they were wonderful additions and helped further drive the story. Adding to the impact of the costumes, set, and score was Chad Beguelin's book, which offered a ton of quips that provided for sharp, quick dialogue between the actors.
Bob Crowley's design for the Cave of Wonders was especially worth noting, as audience members visibly gasped when the towers of gold were revealed. Sound Designer Ken Travis added a nice final touch, using an echo on Aladdin's mic once he was trapped inside. And to top it all off, the Genie's grand entrance (by Korrie Lee Blossey) was equally as impressive. Blossy's sassy delivery of lines and smooth ability to break the fourth wall were well received by the audience. However, there were moments when the delivery was a bit too quick, and it was difficult to catch what Blossey was saying.
For the more nostalgic audience members, the numerous pop culture references, as well as nods to previous Disney films, were much appreciated. There was even a reference to Abu, who is not in this show. Instead, audiences met Aladdin's three street urchin friends: Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Ben Chavez), and Kassim (Colt Prattes), characters written for the original film who were eventually scrapped. Each member of this trio brought a unique flavor to the storytelling of the show, but also worked seamlessly together as a powerhouse unit, especially in their song "High Adventure," complete with sword fighting and perfect comedic timing. In fact, their witty banter and one-liners throughout the show were a fun and unexpected surprise to those who hadn't known about these characters before.
The comedic timing between Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and Iago (Reggie De Leon) was also important to note. Their interactions felt so natural, and they complemented each other very well. Kudos must also be given to Jim Steinmeyer for his Illusion Design; in other shows, the projections can be completely overdone, but the projections used in Aladdin were very effective and helped convey the magic being used. In the same vein, words can't even describe the splendor of "A Whole New World." The illusion of the magic carpet against the backdrop of the night sky was breathtaking, and the shooting stars created via lighting effects were a nice touch. You could hear a pin drop in the audience during that song; everyone was simply captivated.
Enjoyable and riveting from beginning to end, Aladdin is sure to delight audience members of all ages. From the impressively tight orchestra to the multiple, yet gorgeous, costume and scene changes, to the strong vocals coming out of every cast member, this is a show that promises not to disappoint.
Aladdin is playing November 13 through December 1 at Hippodrome Theatre, 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore MD 21201. Tickets available at https://www.aladdinthemusical.com/tour/baltimore-md.
Photo credit: Deen Van Meer