BWW Review: ALADDIN Flies Into the Kennedy Center
Now in its second year, the national tour of the 2014 Broadway mega-hit musical Aladdin offers the kind of family friendly entertainment opportunity (and, let's face it, name recognition) that really sells itself. Some questionable casting choices and a book by Chad Beguelin that's filled with a little too many eyeroll worthy anachronistic jokes, aside, the touring production has a few elements that make a trip to the Kennedy Center worth it. A stellar - albeit deeply caffeinated - performance by Major Attaway as the Genie, moments of Disney magic (how about that magic carpet?), some really fun production numbers featuring a really talented ensemble cast, and of course some great songs by Alan Menken (Music), the incomparable Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin (Lyrics) are some of the reasons you might give this show a look. Once you immerse yourself into the world of Agrabah, you might even forget about the more disappointing moments and, let's face it, the fidgety kid sitting next to you who proceeds to kick your leg for two plus hours while his parents sit and enjoy a date night behind you (but that's another story for another time).
Based on the 1992 hit animated musical of the same name, the mostly unnecessarily longer stage adaptation retains the central story of how the poor thief Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) ends up with Jasmine (Kaenaonalani Kekoa, making her professional theater debut) - a girl who wants to be seen as more than just a pretty, rich princess and a prize for some man - with the little help from a Genie (Major Attaway) and the wishes he grants. There are complications of course - enter Jafar (Jonathan Weir) the villain, supported by his sidekick Iago (a comedic Reggie De Leon), who wants nothing more than the power that would come from being Sultan. That would, of course, require getting Jasmine's father, the current Sultan (Jerald Vincent) out of the picture as well as Aladdin himself. Though a master of manipulation, he doesn't quite succeed and all ends happily ever after.
The stage adaptation provides deeper insight into who Aladdin and Jasmine are mainly through song. "Proud of Your Boy" (originally written by Menken and Ashman, but did not appear in the original film) gives Aladdin the opportunity to talk about his deceased mother and what he wants for his own life while "These Palace Walls" gives Jasmine the platform to express her frustration over not having control over her life and destiny. Additional songs like "A Million Miles Away" (the best of the new songs) also help propel Jasmine and Aladdin's relationship forward and give them the opportunity to declare what they want out of it. An extended version of the crowd pleaser "Friend Like Me" (performed with great enthusiasm and energy by Attaway) and "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, and Kassim" (which introduces Aladdin's sidekicks, also fellow thieves) are fun production numbers that introduce us further to the players and the colorful place they inhabit (Bob Crowley provides the scenic design). Backed by Faith Seetoo's talented 18-piece orchestra, these numbers showcase a strong and colorfully dressed ensemble cast (costumes by Gregg Barnes) that expertly performs Director Casey Nicholaw's fun and varied choreography and some pretty cool technical effects, including pyro.
While the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine don't exactly require an incredible amount of acting prowess - and the role of Jasmine isn't really all that meaty - I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by Greenspan and Kekoa's performances. While they have believable chemistry between one another and certainly look the parts, I didn't really buy Greenspan as a mischievous boy who has had to fend for himself, or Kekoa as a determined girl questioning tradition. Greenspan has very solid vocals, but Kekoa's are lacking. She has a strong, middle range belt (albeit a little too nasal for my taste), but her head voice is among the weakest I've heard from a leading actress in an Equity national tour whose primary duty is to, well, sing. The break as she transitions from belt to head voice is more than a little obvious especially on numbers such as "A Million Miles Away" and "A Whole New World." Greenspan and Kekoa's voices don't blend particularly well either. Still, regardless of the less than stellar vocal performance of "A Whole New World," you have to admit that the Disney magic that goes into making the magic carpet fly is pretty cool.
Let's face it though. The kid eager to see Jasmine and Aladdin live isn't going to care much about vocal breaks or a book that is a little to jokey. This show provides fun for the whole family and there's something to be said about that. if it introduces the next generation of theatergoers to the art form, it's a good thing.
Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
ALADDIN plays the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - located at 2700 F Street NW in Washington, DC - through September 7, 2019. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or purchase them online.