Review: New Touring Cast Grounds an Imperfect ALADDIN in Its Return to Dr. Phillips Center

The stage musical is somehow cartoonier than the animated film that inspired it, but thoughtful performances and treasure-trove set design make it all worthwhile...

By: Jan. 08, 2024
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Review: New Touring Cast Grounds an Imperfect ALADDIN in Its Return to Dr. Phillips Center
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I reviewed Aladdin: The Musical once before — during its February 2020 tour stop in Orlando, just weeks before the world would change.

Now it’s back in town, and maybe it’s changed too?

If Playbills were magic lamps, that’s the wish I’d make on my way into Dr. Phillips Center.

While the Ashman-Menken music is undeniable and the underlying story is one of Disney’s finest, the stage translation has always had more problems than Prince Ali has purple peacocks. (I counted.)

Alas, Dr. Phillips Center stopped producing Playbills years ago. And while the current run may have a first-rate genie in its bottle, the show itself still rubs me the wrong way.

For starters, it summons a trio of newly created (but barely developed) best friends who inexplicably get so much stage time that you almost wonder why the show’s called Aladdin and not Aladdin, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. The villains spend more time practicing their evil laugh than actually being evil. And Act I ends too early, forcing Act II to race through its finale faster than a magic carpet on molly.

But for all its issues, there’s still some diamond in this rough. Aladdin’s sets are shining and shimmering. Splendid, even. (And reportedly sized down from the last run — I didn't notice.) It’s a mid-tier musical that rewards you for refusing to pay top dollar: the spectacle is easier to take in further away from the stage.

In Orlando this week, the tour’s cast is maybe my favorite yet, including the original Broadway run. That’s largely thanks to Anand Nagraj, who looks for every opportunity to make a menace of Jafar, the libretto’s lampoonery be damned. This is the first time that Aladdin: The Musical has convinced me its protagonists were in any real danger. (Sure, Aaron Choi’s Iago is as silly as any I’ve seen, but that’s what the role calls for... and boy, does he commit.)

Senzel Ahmady has a refreshing take on Jasmine too — more Megara than maiden, with a damsel-defying, Susan Egan-ish affect. It’s a winning complement to Adi Roy’s understated, effortless charm as the eponymous street rat.

While Marcus M. Martin is every bit the funny, fourth-wall breaking Genie you come for, his performance is also surprisingly grounded. There’s an element of Pippin’s Leading Player in his take — a tinge of dramatic intrigue that nicely balances the character’s larger-than-life energy. To boot, he has a terrific voice — not always a given in this particular role.

And while Babkak, Omar, and Kassim are far from three-dimensional as characters, actors Jake Letts, Nathan Levy, and Edward Cuellar (standing in for Colt Prattes on opening night in Orlando) nevertheless deliver one of the highlights of the whole show in “High Adventure,” a rousing refrain of harmony and humor.

Collectively, the cast alone is reason enough to venture back inside the Cave of Wonders, even if Aladdin has never been the prized jewel on stage that it is in film.

The show runs at Dr. Phillips Center through January 7, 2024 before proceeding to the next stops on its tour through North America.

What do you think of ALADDIN on tour? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace

Photo Credit: Deen Van Meer

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