BWW Reviews: A Glitzy, Entertaining ALADDIN

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No need to rub the lamp to grant your wish. The national touring production of ALADDIN that officially opened at the Cadillac Palace last night is everything you could hope for and more. It is an opulent, extravagant and entertaining piece of escapist theater -and unabashedly so.

The plot sticks closely to the 1992 film: a poor orphan (a charming and likable Adam Jacobs) dreams of rising above his station, frees a genie (a wonderful Anthony Murphy) from a lamp and uses one of his three wishes to make himself a prince so that the princess (a feisty and independent Isabelle McCalla as Jasmine) will fall in love with him.

All five of the songs from the original film are presented here, supplemented with new material. A highlight is "Proud of Your Boy" -a song in which Aladdin's greatest wish is to simply make his late mother proud. Jacobs, who originated the role in the Broadway production, does some emotional-charged vocal work in the song and its inclusion adds another layer to the character beyond just getting rich and falling in love. The song was rescued from the cutting room floor of the film and features some of the best lyrics written by late lyricist Howard Ashman (Ashman was allegedly writing about his own turbulent relationship with his own mom).

The show goes from dazzling to super nova once Aladdin releases the genie from his lamp prison, by the way. Murphy seems to pour a boundless amount of energy into "Friend Like Me" and he and the entire company seem to top themselves with every additional bar of music.

In Chad Beguelin's script, Al's animated monkey sidekick Abu has been replaced by a trio of best friends and fellow thieves (Zach Bencal as Babkak, Philippe Arroyo as Omar and Mike Longo as Kassim). The characters and one song (the rousing "High Adventure") were also rescued from an earlier draft of the film. Beguelin relies a bit too much on a clichéd joke about Bencal's character always being hungry, but Longo is a standout as the dashing Kassim.

Jasmine has also been given a trio of ladies in waiting (Mary Antonini, Olivia Donalson and Annie Wallace), but the gals aren't given much to do beyond providing some terrific vocal back-up. One wonders why a show that presents its princess as a budding feminist who believes a woman should co-rule along side her Sultan husband doesn't bother to name any of her female friends.

As the royal counsel with eyes on the Sultan's throne, Jonathan Weir has perfected the Disney villain role. His Jafar is evil without being too scary for the younger set. His pet parrot Iago is now a bumbling henchman (a delightfully funny Reggie De Leon). Iago helps soften the more sinister elements of the Jafar character even more. The pair are a great evil comic duo.

The production values on this tour truly rival its New York counterpart from the more than 330 brightly colored costumes by Gregg Barnes to some stunning set pieces that include a palace inspired by intricate Islamic paper cut art to a gilded Cave of Wonder that lives up to its name in every way (scenic design by Bob Crowley; the latter literally is dripping with gold stalactites).

Toss in a magic carpet that twists, turns and dives midair - all seemingly without the use of wires-- and you have the makings of a memorable, theatrical spectacle.

ALADDIN plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randoph) through Sept. 10. Tickets $44-$153. 800.775.2000.

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From This Author Misha Davenport