BWW Review: ALADDIN National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on Disney's 1992 Academy Award-winning animated film musical of the same name as well as the Arabic folktale from the One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin follows an Arabian street urchin who steals food in order to support himself. Meanwhile, Princess Jasmine is feeling hemmed in by her father's desire to find her a royal groom. To win over both Jasmine and the Sultan, Aladdin teams up with a genie from a magic lamp he found to disguise himself as a wealthy prince. Yet, the Sultan's Grand Vizier, Jafar, is plotting to take over the throne.
Prior to opening in New York, there wasn't a whole lot of anticipation for Aladdin. Due to the show's underwhelming response while it was out-of-town in Toronto, many people were expecting it to be a fiasco. Yet, when Aladdin opened on March 20th, 2014, it received a much better critical response than expected. The show not only went on to become one of the hits of that season, but also received 5 Tony Award nominations (including Best Musical), and currently has multiple productions running all over the world.
As for the adaptation itself, to quote a lyric from the finale, "it's the plot that you knew with a small twist or two, though the changes they made were slight". Book writer Chad Beguelin not only stays true to the heart and soul of the animated film, but is also able to quite successfully augment it into a big, Broadway musical. In fact, some of the additional material that is introduced in the show are actually ideas that original lyricist Howard Ashman had in mind when he and composer Alan Menken originally conceived the movie. Which includes the tone of a big, broad musical comedy, the Genie as this Cab Callaway/Fats Waller type of person, and Aladdin's three human friends, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim.
Under the direction (and choreography) of Casey Nicholaw, a terrific cast of triple threats are able to bring themselves to these iconic characters. Jonah Hoʻokano makes for a very charismatic Aladdin. Not only is he the same lovable street urchin you know from the cartoon, but there is also a little more to him that's established in the Broadway show. He has his own 'I Want' song called 'Proud of Your Boy' (which was originally written for the movie, but didn't make it), where he sings about his guilt in thievery, even making a vow to never steal again after the recent death of his mother. Kaenaooālani Kekoa proves to be quite a strong Jasmine, the princess who feels more like a slave than royalty as the Sultan demands her to marry a noble prince who she finds to be a total stranger. In one of the brand new songs written by Menken and Beguelin just for the show, 'These Palace Walls' is able to provide Jasmine her very own number as she sings about how much she feels there's more out in the world than just the royal life.
Though the standout of the whole show is Korie Lee Blossey as the Genie. Working with Ashman's aforementioned original vision of the character, Blossey never once tries to do what the late Robin Williams did in the cartoon. Instead, he is really able to make the role his own. Blossey's Genie should be what I consider the definition of a real scene stealer. It's especially evident in 'Friend Like Me' (which has been augmented for the stage as a big, showstopping production number) where he really brings the house down. Not only that, but you also feel invested in his friendship with Aladdin.
Other highlights of the cast include Patrick R. Brown as a very sinister Jafar, Reggie De Leon as his comedic right-hand man, Iago (who in the Broadway show is no longer a parrot, instead a human character), as well as memorable turns from Aladdin's three friends, Zach Bencal as Babkak, Ben Chavez as Omar, and Colt Pratts as Kassim. With some terrific choreography and a colorfully designed world thanks to Natasha Katz's lighting, Bob Crowley's sets, and Gregg Barnes' costumes, this stage adaptation proves to be a worthy companion to the animated classic. The show not only makes for a great night out for families, but also a great date night for romantic couples who grew up on the cartoon. Great musical comedy, outstanding production numbers, and some impressive stage craft (which includes a stunning flying carpet sequence in 'A Whole New World'), audiences of all ages should definitely find enjoyment in Aladdin. This national touring production is currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through October 26th.