BWW Review: Absolutely Magical ALADDIN at the Providence Performing Arts Center
Nearly six years after opening on Broadway and 27 years after appearing as a beloved animated Disney film, the national touring cast of the musical ALADDIN soars into the Providence Performing Arts Center. This version of the story contains many callbacks to the original 1992 film, but also adds many new elements, such as new songs, new characters, and even a new spin on the Genie. No matter one's familiarity with the source material, audience goers are in for a flashy and thoroughly entertaining evening, suitable for adults and children alike.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's classic songs are all here - such tunes as "A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me." "Proud of Your Boy," a song that was removed from the original movie, is included as well, and one wonders why it was taken out in the first place. A handful of new tunes have also been added to the stage musical, complimenting the additions to the storyline and cast of characters. For example, Aladdin's mischievous pet monkey Abu has been replaced by a trio of human ruffians, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim (humorously portrayed by Zach Bencal, Ben Chavez, and Colt Prattes respectively). The role of Iago, Jafar's sidekick, has also been made human, from a parrot to a short-statured man, played to perfection by Reggie De Leon, with many moments that are the perfect blend of creepy and funny.
As Aladdin, Jonah Ho'okano is fresh faced and charming, equally at home as "the diamond in the rough" in Act I and as "Prince Ali" in Act II. Kaenaonālani Kekoa is earnest as the strong-willed Princess Jasmine, yearning for something more than traditional court life. Their duet "A Whole New World" during the second act is one of the technical highlights of the show (just try and see how the magic carpet moves so seamlessly around the stage), but such a heavy focus on the twinkling lights and stagecraft of the scene takes away from their chemistry, which ought to be highlighted instead. As the villain Jafar, Patrick R. Brown has the right vocal inflection for the role, but comes across as less than menacing, which makes the conclusion to his storyline late in the show fall a bit quick and flat.
The highlight of the cast is without a doubt Korie Lee Blossey as the Genie. The musical's version of this character does not try to mimic Robin Williams' iconic take on the role. Instead, the character now comes across as an amalgamation of Cab Calloway (complete with zoot suit during the "Prince Ali" number), Fats Waller, and other entertainers of the 1930s. Blossey embodies the role full stop, endlessly energetic and thoroughly charismatic. His version of "Friend Like Me," accompanied by the entire chorus, is a glittery showstopper, receiving well-deserved lengthy and very enthusiastic applause. The same can be said for the Act II opener of "Prince Ali," with a number of quick changes for the chorus members to keep up the illusion of a lengthy procession that is also a pure, entertaining spectacle.
Speaking of spectacle, the costumes are gorgeous, with lush, bright colors and the sparkle of a multitude of Swarovski crystals. The sets range from basic illustrated backdrops to moveable pieces used to good effect during the initial marketplace scenes, to a dazzling interior for the Cave of Wonder. Projections are used just the right amount to enhance some of the effects.
While at times the humor is repetitive (ie. constant food related jokes pertaining to Aladdin's less than buff friend), and it's true the stakes never feel particularly high, the overall show is so top notch that ultimately these aspects don't take away from the two and a half hours of genuine entertainment Aladdin provides. Between the fantastic group numbers, choreography that at times evokes old-timey chase and adventure films, and Blossey's spectacular turn as the Genie, Aladdin is well worth your time.
Aladdin plays Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm through November 10. VIP Ticket Packages, which include a prime seat location, a commemorative souvenir program and an exclusive merchandise item, are also available. Tickets are available at the PPAC Box Office (220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903), online at ppacri.org and by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787).
BankNewport Family Night at Aladdin is Wednesday, November 6 at 7pm. Patrons who purchase a regularly priced ticket to the Wednesday, November 6 performance of Aladdin will receive a complimentary ticket of equal value for a child/teenager up to age 18. Family Night tickets are available at the Box Office at 220 Weybosset Street in downtown Providence or by phone at (401) 421-2787 only. Family Night tickets are limited and are available on a first-come, first-served basis in selected locations. Golden Circle seating is excluded, and standard service fees apply. PPAC's BankNewport Family Night media sponsors are ABC 6 and Coast 93.3.
Orders for groups of 10 or more may be placed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (401) 574-3162.
Pictured: Aladdin North American Tour. Photo by Deen Van Meer.