BWW Review: ALADDIN Converts the Pantages into A Whole New World
Disney Aladdin The Musical/music by Alan Menken/lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin/book by Chad Beguelin/directed/choreographed by Casey Nicholaw/Hollywood Pantages Theatre/through March 31
If Aladdin is not really a Prince, how can he capture the Princess's heart? Well, he can suspend and float a magic carpet in mid-air and take her for a ride on it twice each evening - and that's a pretty tall order for a commoner - through March 31 at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.
Based on the 1992 Disney animated film, Aladdin the Musical features a street urchin Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) in the fabricated Mideastern city of Agrabah, who hangs out with his buddies Babkak, Omar and Kassim (Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, Mike Longo, respectively) and wastes his time in a life of crime by robbing from the rich in the marketplace, but ... ultimately longs for something better ("Proud of Your Boy"). When he is tricked by Jafar (Jonathan Weir), who wants to overthrow the Sultan (JC Montgomery), to enter a cave and release a Genie (Michael James Scott) from a bottle, an elaborate plot ensues. Along with his short, funny sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon), Jafar wants Aladdin his "diamond in the rough" to take the three wishes granted by the Genie and to pass himself off as a Prince in order to marry the Sultan's daughter Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla). Eventually Jafar will prove Aladdin is a phony, win the ruler's praise and seize the position of Sultan. Of course, in a Disney storyline, all devilish schemes fail, the good guys win and the bad...well, let's say they get deservedly kicked around and face doom and gloom as their just reward. But not without a lot of fun in the meantime! Think of Scar in The Lion King and his hatred for his brother Mufasa, and you will understand Jafar's jealous motives. In their playfulness Aladdin's chums, not unlike The Three Stooges, remind one of the irrascible Timon and Pumbaa, also from The Lion King. As in most Disney films one can see plot elements and characters from their other works and make endless comparisons...with Beauty and the Beast, Hunchback of Notre Dame and so on and on and on...
These are all fairytales with real people suffering real problems who, regardless of which side of the tracks they're from. want to change their plight or entrapment and ... live their dreams. In the real world, it doesn't work out that often, but in a fairytale, especially in one replicated by Disney, everything is possible.
Striking in this production of Aladdin is Casey Nicholaw's brilliant direction and choreography. From where I was sitting, I could see the glistening bodies of the dancers who work nonstop as a team to pass the joy and elation of the moment over the footlights. Set design by Bob Crowley, for a touring set, is more than adequately evocative of Arabian nights. We have elaborately bejewled costumes by Gregg Barnes and ... who can forget musical director/conductor Brent-Alan Huffman and his spectacular full Broadway orchestra. Let us not pass on praising Ken Travis for his outstanding sound design and Natasha Katz for her lighting design that so suits the Mideastern background.
As far as the acting is concerned, LA audiences are exceedingly lucky to have the original Aladdin Adam Jacobs playing the role. Handsome with a sensational vocal instrument, this young lad is top notch. There is a sincerity within that makes Aladdin a winning personality. Not only can he fly the magic carpet, but in Jacobs' hands, he finds his truth and lives it. Audiences love the Genie, such an over.the.top theatrical role, played deliriously well by the Australian Genie, Michael James Scott. His "Friend Like Me" is sensational, one of the most rousing numbers in the show. McCalla as Jasmine is not only beautiful, but really beguiling. It is great to see a leading lady with real emotions, especially in a musical of this nature, where voice often overcomes good acting. Bencal, Arroyo and Longo are deliciously naughty as the menacing trio, with Arroyo a scream, literally. Weir and De Leon are terribly amusing as the villains, with De Leon literally bumping into walls to get laughs. JC Montgomery is appropriately stern as Jasmine's cautious father. Kudos to the entire ensemble who are without a doubt triple threat performers.
Beguelin's book, of course, is replete with corny lines and situations, for example, the Genie going down in the elevator-like structure in the cave. As in Macy's department store - "Going down...second floor, ladies' lingerie; first floor, men's bargain basement." It's a hoot visually. The story is loyal to the 1992 movie of Aladdin, with some changes here and there. Music-wise, Menken's and Ashman's film songs are here plus several new ones added. "A Whole New World" is memorable as well as my favorite tune "Proud of Your Boy".
Don't miss Disney Aladdin the Musical for its sheer entertainment values! The cast and creative team have combined to make this a knockout through March 31 at the Pantages.
(photo credit: Deen Van Meer and Cylla von Tiedermann)