You may recognize the song from the 1992 animated movie on which this new musical, which opened Thursday at the New Amsterdam Theatre, is based. In the film version, Friend is sung by Robin Williams, voicing the role of the genie who comes to our titular hero's aid, at his most breathlessly ebullient. It's an act that would be impossible to reproduce, so Iglehart, abetted by director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, simply tops it. By the end of the number - which includes a game-show segment, a medley of tunes from other Disney musicals and a succession of winking, twinkling chorus lines - Iglehart's Genie is deliriously huffing and puffing; the audience, which responded at a recent preview with a standing ovation, is just as giddy. If Disney Theatrical's latest production doesn't sustain that frenzied high throughout, it delivers a rush that may surprise folks who attend either as chaperones or to relive their own youths.
ALADDIN Broadway Reviews
It's spritely directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, well sung by a huge 35-person cast wearing an alarming number of harem pants, and hits that sweet spot Disney Theatrical Productions do so well, a saccharine fairy tale for the kids cut by some sly, vinegary quips for their parents...Adam Jacobs stars as a sweet, hunky Aladdin -- or "Al" as he's called -- and Courtney Reed is his stunning-looking Jasmine, in a little need of some theatrical seasoning but with grooming seemingly straight off Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset." A welcome bit of casting is having Jonathan Freeman return as Jafar, the same role he voiced in the animated film. He is simply delicious, relishing his evilhood. One of the biggest obstacles into turning this property into a stage musical has been the blue elephant in the room, the Genie. How can you possibly have a real actor play the shape-shifting, manic talking spirit that Robin Williams so wonderfully portrayed on film? You apparently hire Iglehart, a cartwheeling, high kicking big man who can sing and goof. His extended scene in a cave prompts some theatergoers to give him a standing ovation -- and the show's not even half over.
The prospect of "Aladdin," promising another weary night in the presence of a spunky youngster and wisecracking animals, didn't exactly set my heart racing. But this latest musical adapted from one of Disney's popular movies, which opened on Thursday night at the New Amsterdam Theater, defied my dour expectations. As directed and choreographed (and choreographed, and choreographed) by Casey Nicholaw, and adapted by the book writer Chad Beguelin, "Aladdin" has an infectious and only mildly syrupy spirit. Not to mention enough baubles, bangles and beading to keep a whole season of "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestants in runway attire.
Billing notwithstanding, the real star of "Aladdin" is James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the guy in the lamp, a part that was voiced in the movie by Robin Williams at his most frenetic. Mr. Iglehart is just as energetic, though his approach is different: His Genie is a hopped-up cross between Fats Waller and Cab Calloway. (Not surprisingly, he looks stupendous in an aquamarine zoot suit.) "Friend Like Me," his big first-act number, comes within a cat's whisker of stopping the show. The trouble is that nothing else in the first act can touch it. Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed, who play Aladdin and his princess, are pretty but bland, and the temperature doesn't start rising again until the magic-carpet ride, which comes after intermission and is the slickest thing to hit Broadway since the flying car in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." From then on, "Aladdin" becomes fun and stays that way.
The cartoonish musical is modelled after snappy 1960s Broadway musical comedies, complete with passing scenes staged "in-one" in front of a curtain to cover changes in décor. Sure, that's retro, but it suits the light-hearted material as well as a Disney crowd who probably prefers familiar formats. Casey Nicholaw, an ace director-choreographer, maintains a slightly tongue-in-cheek quality throughout the fast-moving show, especially in his frisky dances that, with their sinuous arm gestures, synchronized moves and general acrobatics, often suggest Bollywood production numbers. A lively and good-looking ensemble expertly undulates through the sometimes zany choreography.
Director/choreographer Nicholaw (of Book of Mormon) is one of Broadway's top musical comedy guys nowadays, as demonstrated by "Friend Like Me." The rest of his first act, though, seems restrained and merely atmospheric. The scenery by Bob Crowley is effective, but without the extra-special touch he has brought to various projects in the past (including Mary Poppins and this season's Glass Menagerie). The always-expert Natasha Katz creates magical images with her lighting, while Gregg Barnes (of Follies and Kinky Boots) outdoes himself with costumes that bring new meaning to the word resplendent. The sound, though, is so over-amplified that it obscures what are probably first-rate orchestrations by Danny Troob. Score Aladdin a considerable win for Disney, likely to fill the New Amsterdam with happy crowds for seasons to come. Better than Little Mermaid, Aida and Tarzan, though not exactly a knockout.
Its exotic Middle Eastern setting and multiethnic cast aside, Aladdin offers less "A Whole New World" - to quote its signature song - than a traditional Disney fairy-tale realm; it's perhaps the most old-school of the company's screen-to-stage adaptations since Beauty and the Beast. But that shouldn't deter audiences from making this splashy Arabian Nights wish-fulfillment fantasy into a family-friendly hit. Directed and choreographed by musical comedy specialist Casey Nicholaw with loads of retro showmanship, an unapologetic embrace of casbah kitsch and a heavy accent on shtick, this is sweet, silly fun. It's not the most sophisticated entertainment, but the target demographic won't mind at all.
The carpet flies, kids, and it's awesome. Aladdin, an urchin from the streets, and Princess Jasmine float far away into the extremely twinkly sky. Such awesomeness, of course, is to be expected from "Aladdin," Disney's latest Broadway translation of a beloved animated fantasy. But what's a whole new world, as the song promises, is the almost modest, down-to-earth human scale of director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw's big, cheerful production -- an enjoyable throwback to old-time musical comedy.
Don't be fooled by the title of Disney's latest film-to-stage transfer. "Aladdin" may be named after its lead street urchin character, but the musical comedy that just opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre is all about one character: the Genie. That's due to the casting of the energetic James Monroe Iglehart, who all but erases the memory of Robin Williams, the voice of the Genie in the 1992 animated film. It's rare that you see an actor playing a character he was born to play in a career-defining performance. Iglehart, last seen on Broadway in "Memphis," uses his background in improv to create a comedic and charismatic Genie, who's equal parts Fats Waller, Luther Vandross and Oprah Winfrey ("You get a wish! You get a wish!"). Iglehart is so outstanding as Genie that his take on "Friend Like Me" stopped the performance I attended with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. It's the number you'll leave the theater talking about.
"Animated" doesn't begin to describe the frantic, screwball version of Disney's "Aladdin" that opened Thursday night on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre, with a bushel of new songs and a Genie who works so hard you wouldn't be stunned to find him continuing to grant wishes at the stage door. James Monroe Iglehart is the embodiment here of the role Robin Williams voiced in the 1992 movie, and schtick for schtick and wisecrack for wisecrack, the performance very much keeps to the hyper-caffeinated pace Williams set. If Tonys were given in the category of energy output, they'd award Iglehart three. He is in fact-and no surprise here-the most enjoyable ingredient of director Casey Nicholaw's production, which despite a lot of huffing and puffing and brandishing of scimitars exposes more of the material's rough patches than it does any happier conceits.
For Aladdin, Disney's team builds on the take-no-chances, take-no-prisoners lessons of its six Broadway predecessors to all but guarantee a quality hit: if not a Lion King, at least not a Tarzan. They wrote the book on this sort of thing, and now, Walt be praised, they're going to heave it at you. This is not as unpleasant an experience as it sounds; if you're up for a meaningless fling, it might as well be with a pro... If the whole enterprise is arranged to prevent us from taking anything seriously, why should we respond when we're suddenly asked to care? (Spamalot didn't ask us to.) This also makes the romantic roles mostly unactable, at least by the stiff cuties Disney favors...So here's a new fantastic point of view: What if Disney applied its unparalleled know-how to stories that are not reducible to needlepoint truths at the first act curtain? Aladdin will surely be another of its successes; I hope it is. But what if it put its corporate muscle and smarts behind an artist instead of a franchise? What if they gave us a new West Side Story or Gypsy, instead of just quoting them for anachronistic laughs?
As in many a Disney stage production, the big showstopper isn't even human: During 'A Whole New World,' a flying carpet carries our lovers aloft in a night-time ride, swooping and spinning with how'd-they-do-that wonder. (Jim Steinmeyer and Jeremy Chernick are credited with designing the onstage illusions and special effects.) It deserves its own curtain call.
Disney's new "Aladdin" doesn't quite catch lightning in a bottle - but it lets a pretty nifty genie out of a lamp. That would be James Monroe Iglehart, in the role memorably voiced by Robin Williams in the 1992 animated hit. Every time this Genie's on stage, it's as if "Aladdin" were mainlining Red Bull. Iglehart works so hard during his big number, you fear for his health - that is, when you're not laughing your head off. And then there's the rest of the show...The whole vibe is like a throwback to those old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies: "The Road to Agrabah." But the journey may be a short one - leaving the beautiful New Amsterdam Theatre free just in time for the "Frozen" musical to move in.
Aside from the tonic of Iglehart's djinn, however, Aladdin is short on magic. Director Casey Nicholaw fills the stage with activity, and Jonathan Freeman and Don Darryl Rivera offer ripe turns as a villainous vizier and his squawking sidekick. But the plotting drifts into weightless silliness, with a surfeit of generic padding and glitz. There's the rub: The musical is called Aladdin, but seems content to be Prince Ali.-Theater review by Adam Feldman
While burning through wishes, you should ask for the musical to have a lot more heart. The absence is glaring, given that Disney excels at tugging at tickers and then making them melt. But this show seldom moves you. The title character's yearning ballad, "Proud of Your Boy," sung to his long-gone mom, isn't enough to make this anything better than a Bedouin "Beauty and the Beast" - a cartoon on stage.
You might argue that nobody cares about such veracity in a show based on a cartoon and now expanded into a family musical full of color and exuberance - if still wanting for an overarching theatrical reason for being. But if the director Casey Nicholaw, the book writer Chad Beguelin and their cast all were just to pay a little more attention to the importance of committing to the truth of the plot, however familiar, it surely would greatly improve this show. And it would make it easier for us to engage with characters whose romance lacks emotional stakes, not least because it exists in a world without need.
Suffice to say, "Aladdin" bears no resemblance to Nicholaw's previous laugh-filled Broadway effort, "The Book of Mormon."...And neither does Chad Beguelin's book, which is loaded with some clever "Sesame Street" word play but finds no magic whatsoever in a story rife with magic lanterns, carpets, genies and sultry Arabian nights. Will children get the humor in send-ups of old tap and soft-shoe numbers? Isn't mocking stage traditions a rather cynical way to introduce children to the theater?
Large but agile, Iglehart then leads the singing and dancing in "Friend Like Me," a wonderfully over-the-top moment of celebration. Casey Nicholaw hasn't directed the show very nimbly, but his choreography for this number is invigorating. "Aladdin" ends with the hero and Jasmine floating through the night sky on a magic carpet. It's a lovely image, but too little, too late.
The magic-carpet ride is magical. The Cave of Wonders is wonderful. And yes, you'll hear the tunes you loved in the 1992 movie. But the notion that "Disney Aladdin" somehow resurrects the spirit of the late Howard Ashman, who had the original inspiration for the movie and contributed most of its clever lyrics, is a joke. Restoring a person's work without respecting his artistic sensibility is no tribute at all.
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