BWW Review: ALADDIN Brings a Whole New World to Broadway Sacramento
According to Genie, "Agrabah has more glitz and glamour than any other fictional city in the world." He's not lying. Aladdin is a veritable dreamscape of color, light, and shimmering costumes. The animated movie has been brought to life on the stage by six-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes. Familiar songs from Tony and Grammy-award winners Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin feed the nostalgia from the highest grossing film of 1992 while adding new material to complement the transition to a live audience.
Aladdin has been adapted from old folktales including "One Thousand and One Nights." Aladdin is a destitute young man-a "street rat"-who falls in love with a princess named Jasmine. He is forced by the villainous Jafar to gain entrance into the Cave of Wonders, for it can only be opened by "the diamond in the rough." While inside, he rubs a magic lamp and...voila! The Genie pops out to grant Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin, feeling a kinship with the Genie, promises that he will set the Genie free with his last wish. Will Aladdin be able to overcome his materialistic desires and keep his promise?
The ensemble comes out swinging with the opening number, "Arabian Nights," a jewel-toned fusion of traditional Middle Eastern and modern interpretation. Then that rascal, Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan at this performance), swoops in to steal our hearts (and some lunch) from the rooftops of Agrabah in the athletic "One Jump Ahead." Now we're hooked, but the cast is indefatigable. Aladdin's monkey from the animated film, Abu, has been turned into three sidekicks (Zach Bencal, Ben Chavez, and Colt Prattes), who deliver slapstick and some impressive moves in another energetic ensemble piece, "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim." Not to be outdone, Genie delivers the coup de grace of Act I. "Friend Like Me" is a bedazzler's dream that is befitting of the Cave of Wonders. So much sparkle, so much gold, how many treasures can one cavern hold? Oh, wrong show...but there's also a mashup of Disney songs and different genres. Add in the showstopping tap number, pyrotechnics, and Broadway's Genie (Major Attaway), and you have something that exceeds the imagination.
Admittedly, Act 1 is a hard act to follow. Act 2 says, "Hold my drink." The strength of the ensemble numbers is again evident in "Prince Ali." Numerous costume changes and endless parades of people make it seem that the "Prince's" entourage is equivalent in numbers to a small city. It's a magnificent display of cohesion with a "Fantasia" feel. It's followed immediately by perhaps the most recognizable song in Aladdin, "A Whole New World," which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It features Aladdin and Jasmine on a magic carpet that must actually fly, since there is no apparent apparatus holding it aloft. Kids and adults alike will be entranced by the starry night sky against the flying carpet, Jasmine's (Kaenaonalani Kekoa) Disney princess voice, and the message that love transcends class.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jafar and his humanized henchman, Iago, who still "parrots" the villain relentlessly. Both are played by the original National Tour actors, Jonathan Weir and Reggie De Leon. Weir is a remorseless Jafar, palpably hungry for power. De Leon makes his mark as a hilariously lovable conspirator who pays just enough homage to his avian predecessor to make a purist happy. Disney magic abounds on set and throughout the show, from the cast to the music to the ambiance. Aladdin is certainly "one jump" ahead of the competition.
Aladdin plays at the Community Center Theater through June 2. Tickets are available at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; they are also available at the Community Center Theater Box Office, 1301 L Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181, or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.
Photo credit: Deen Van Meer