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A CurtainUp Review
Fans of the lauded film version of Aladdin will find significant but hardly discomforting changes in the supporting characters, none of which is bound to detract from the fun to be had as we are graciously invited by a Genie to a magical kingdom. This, as opposed to being hit over the head as was that Connecticut Yankee who came to in King Arthur's court. Except for the wondrously magical flight of that legendary magic carpet (you won't see any wires. . .wow!) we aren't otherwise overwhelmed by a lot of high-tech stage wizardry.
In truth, it's the rib-tickling jokes that fly the highest. Most of them reach their target or land without a thud. The unsubtle delivery of the lines and the slap-stick shtick is all a part of an entertaining ride. If children (of all ages) have gotten used to the tongue-in-cheek approach slavishly applied these days to adaptations and re-makes of famous stories, director Casey Nicholaw and book writer Chad Beguelin commendably send-up, if not the magic carpet, then everything else that isn't firmly grounded.
Motor-mouthed glibness is in free fall in this musical that boasts an enhanced and very melodic score by Alan Menken (music), Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (lyrics), with additional lyrics attributed to Beguelin. Six songs (some originally composed for the film but not used) have been added to the score giving the show a bounty of pleasing music. "A Whole New World," is the most well-known (Academy Award winner for Best Song) and it's beautifully sung by Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and Jasmine (Courtney Reed) as they take flight on that amazing carpet high above the fabled city of Agrabah on a starry sky. The rest of the score is tuneful and doesn't encourage any screeching or ear-deafening punctuations from the cast, or do I mean punctures.
About the loudest vocals you will hear is the audience in response to the terrific performance by a stage-dominating James Monroe Iglehart, who plays a very hip, bi-polar and show-biz savvy Genie ("My name's Genie, what's yours?") It is next to impossible to keep up with all the in-jokes and his seemingly off-the-cuff patter. Iglehart is the centerpiece of Aladdin's most spectacular and lengthiest production number "Friend Like Me," as performed in full throttle assisted by Aladdin and the entire dancing ensemble in the truly spectacular Cave of Wonders. It is a multi-discipline song and dance highlight that would have impressed Ziegfeld, the great producer of yore.
As Aladdin, Jacobs is athletic, good-looking, and a fine singer who gives his all as the rascally inclined if also and romantically-smitten "street rat" who pretends to be a prince. His stirring solo "Proud of Your Boy" displays his impressive vocal chops.
It is easy to see how Aladdin's head is easily turned by Jasmine, the beautiful princess on-the-run, as played with spunk by the very lovely Ms. Reed. Aladdin's monkey (in the film) has been replaced in this stage version with three wise-cracking, buffoonish pun-prone side-kicks— Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz, Brandon O'Neill — whose antics waver between comical and tiresome. But as amusing support, they are presumably more dependable than a monkey would be.
Jonathan Freeman is a formidable presence as the evil Jafar, who along with his parroting minion Iago (played by pudgy and comical Don Darryl Rivera) attempts to gain control of the magic oil lamp, marry Jasmine and become the next Sultan (admirably played by Clifton Davis).
Nicholaw, who also choreographed, allows some of the danced numbers to go on too long, particularly "High Adventure" in which sword-fighting and horse-play converges less amusingly and inventively than one might hope. An allowance is made for the times when a little intoxicating hoochy koochy undulating is integrated courtesy of the ladies of the harem. No stinting on the budgeted allowance afforded costume designer Gregg Barnes whose colorful, fancifully exotic attire is as breathtaking a sight in the market place at daylight as it is during the Arabian nights, or as Genie tells us, "Even our poor people look fabulous!"
Bob Crowley's settings fulfill their requirement to look fabulous and fantastical. Just as Aladdin's underlying theme to be true to your self is evident, so is this musical's aim to be magical family entertainment. It succeeds.