New York City Theater
New Amsterdam Theater
You want to love “Aladdin.” After all, you loved other Disney blockbusters, especially “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Here we have a beautiful heroine, handsome hero, sassy genie, no-expense-spared costumes and scenery, choreography that goes on forever, not to mention a magic carpet and a great big showstopper that has customers on their feet.
Maybe it’s too much of a good thing, but the strain and the seams show. Maybe it’s all those jokey lines supposed to appeal to adults who have, perhaps reluctantly, accompanied their toddlers to the theater. “Every Tom, Dick or Hussein”?! “Genies are a myth, like dragons and happy marriages”?! Or the apologetic “You’re so Machiavellian, whoever that is”?!
Aiming to please everyone, this by-he-numbers entertainment, with a book by Chad Beguelin, intermittently hits its mark. But it is, let’s face it, a juvenile affair, pedestrian and a bit phony. (At the show caught, the sincerest bit came when one chorus member lost his harem pants. Luckily, he was wearing harem underwear.)
The story has Aladdin fall in love with Princess Jasmine, winning her through the help of the genie in a magic lamp. Supposedly a scruffy street thief, Aladdin looks more like a pristine poster boy, transforming himself into royalty merely by a change in clothing. But never mind. This is musical comedy.
Jasmine’s like other strong-willed Disney heroines, the latest being the sisters in “Frozen.” As she says, with perhaps a nod to Mrs. Clinton, “What’s wrong with a woman running a kingdom?” An absence of mothers also follows tradition, with the plaintive “Proud of Your Boy” a paean to the missing maternal figure.
The show does take off with “Friend Like Me,” sung by the sure-to-be-Tony-nominated James Monroe Iglehart, expending more energy than a dedicated gym rat. He sings, he dances, he smiles, he dominates with such ingratiating abandon that he’s every musical comedy number you’ve ever seen in one package.
No one else makes a fraction of that impression, not even the redoubtable Jonathan Freeman doing a terrific imitation of Cyril Ritchard while playing the scheming wazir, Jafar. Adam Jacobs is an appealing Aladdin, Courtney Reed a game Jasmine and Don Darryl Rivera a hoot as Jafar’s sidekick, Iago (a parrot in the film). Pumping up the evening are Brandon O’Neill, Brian Gonzales and Jonathan Schwartz as Aladdin’s buddies.
Alan Mencken’s music fits the show but doesn’t break out. The lyrics by various composers are simple enough for your four-year old. Bob Crowley’s scenery is storybook Oriental, with Gregg Barnes’ costumes fit for a Scheherazadian feast. All has been supervised by director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, channeling his inner child after his success with the more mature “The Book of Mormon.”
--David A. Rosenberg
March 31, 2014