BWW Review: ALADDIN at Straz Center Tampa
Aladdin is a Broadway musical based on the 1992 Disney animation by the same name. The book is by Chad Beguelin with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The story takes place in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah and follows the life of a poor orphaned commoner named Aladdin who is granted three wishes by a Genie in a lamp. Aladdin uses a wish to woo Princess Jasmine into his life and prevent her father's evil Grand Vizier from his plans to take Jasmine for himself.
If you have not seen Aladdin the musical, I'm going to try my best to bring you into the theatre and allow your imagination to run wild. If you have seen this dazzling piece of eye candy, you know what I'm talking about. My fellow critics have called Aladdin everything and anything from visually stunning and a triumph for the stage to, over the top and distracting unto itself, with too much going on from one inch of the stage to the other. I fall somewhere in-between. Let's look at Disney's stage version of one of their most iconic animated films that received such a huge, razzle-dazzle, flashy, stunning, over the top, Broadway makeover.
Right from the get-go, the opening number, "Arabian Nights", takes place amongst the commotion of a bustling marketplace, adorned with vendor tents and wares hanging from flashy poles. The brilliant colors of fabrics, ornaments and costumes fill the entire stage. Genie (Korie Lee Blossey), who is our "host" throughout the show, proudly states, "Even our poor people look fabulous!" (There's nothing poor about this production!) You may be distracted a few times thinking to yourself, "Did I just get whisked off to Vegas? I am In Vegas? Is this a Vegas spectacular? What's happening?" Mind out of the gutter boys, the female dancers are well clothed - this is a family show.
Speaking of well clothed - how do the actors move in layers of fabulous costuming whose jewels are bejeweled, glitz is be-glitzed and bling is - well you get the idea. Heavy! Very heavy! Even so, the actors move around easily with the seamless designs that transition from cityscapes, marketplaces and the Sultan's palace. The scenery and lighting really are over the top, impressing you with drippings of gold and brilliant hues of color, and unnerving you with a larger than life serpent. (Step away from the cave!)
Mr.Blossy infuses a lot of burly pizzazz into Genie. He's got the personality and moves a show this size commands. Everything and I do mean everything is larger than life with regard to Genie - his clothes; mannerisms, stature and expressions are all a Broadway show unto themselves. He's fun and exhausting to watch and steals the show.
Jonah Ho'okano brings warmth and a sense of pride to his rendition of "Proud of Your Boy," He plays the titular character with some finesse in his quest to become an honorable man, however his likeness to the tall, dark and handsome Aladdin we have come to know, pales in comparison. I heard a few comments coming out of the theatre referencing this.
Princess Jasmine (Kaenaon Alani Kekoa) portrays the anemically written but empowered female that wasn't given much depth of character. First Jasmine shows some signs of interest in Aladdin when first meeting him, then it fades, then it returns. She's set on doing things her way and breaking tradition but the script called for more words than actions. Miss Kekoa lends beautiful vocals to the shallow part written for Jasmine. I just felt the writers could have done so much more with this role.
Annoying Grand Vizier Jarfar (Jonathan Weir) and his squeaky little sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon) are a necessary evil in Jafar's plot to fool Jasmine's father the Sultan, discredit Aladdin, and marry Princess Jasmine. They work well together and Mr. De Leon seems especially suited for his role bringing great characterization to cantankerous Iago.
The long awaited, much talked about magic carpet ride during "A Whole New World" is a technological wonder sporting no visible lifts or cables. You will watch in awe as it floats above the stage against a starlit, moon glowing sky while actors perform all around and even under it. Don't look too hard - it's just simply magic.
You would be hard-pressed to find a show that has so much going on at one time. It's an overloaded feast for the eyes. Every kind of dance genre there is was represented in one of any given numbers - even tap! I love tap! The ensemble looked like a cast of thousands. The only thing this show might be missing is a cliff diver plunging head first into a pool of water on the stage. I'm not saying that didn't happen. I just didn't catch it if it did! You can see this production 10 times and notice something different each time.
The finale is an explosion of glitz and glamor, a spirited tribute to Hollywood's Golden Age Movie Musicals. Aladdin pulls out all the stops - complete with sparkly high stepping showgirls, Genie and Aladdin performing a tango, chorus members square dancing and a tap dancing finale showcasing blinding tinsel-gold costumes.
Aladdin runs through January 5, 2020 at the Straz in Tampa. Grab your sunglasses and several members of your friends and family and sink yourself into a big splashy Disney production.
Happy New Year!
For more information about The Straz visit www.strazcenter.org.