Aladdin continues at the New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, in an open-ended run.
All the folks involved in putting on Aladdin, the new Broadway musical based on the 1992 Disney animated film, seem to be working feverishly to make sure we, the audience, don’t take it seriously. It’s all just good-natured, expensive hokum. That includes cast, crew and creators. Of course, I’m not talking about the Disney money men, who I’m sure are looking for this confection to bring in lots of serious cash into the corporate coffers, or at least the coffers of the Disney Theatrical Productions unit.
Presumably fulfilling the determinedly light-hearted vision of director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, there’s a stage saturated with cotton-candy colours, jazzy music reminiscent of the big bands of yore, whirling dancers in glittering costumes, an innocent love story, plus all the scenic smoke and pyrotechnics the fire laws will allow.
It’s all designed to attract ticket buyers shelling out for seats for the entire family. Think of an extremely kiddie-friendly ride in a theme park, a mild trip through the air in a teacup or seated in the back of Dumbo. Don’t expect any rollercoaster thrills, and certainly none of the in-your-face brazenness of The Book of Mormon, the still-running smash that Nicholaw co-directed and choreographed, or the witty pungency of earlier shows he was involved with, such as Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone.
The book by Chad Beguelin, as I’m sure you know, tells how the good-hearted street kid Aladdin in the Arabian Nights town of Agrabah wins the hand of Princess Jasmine and the sultan’s throne as well, with the help of an obliging genie he rescued from an old lamp. It’s stuffed with lots of innocuous jokes that keep reminding us that we’re only seeing a Broadway show. And yes, Agrabah is a fictional town, the genie assures us as he leads the opening, aptly if not too imaginatively titled ‘Arabian Nights’, the first in an onslaught of production numbers.
The implication is we shouldn’t get too caught up in the story. And to make sure we are fully aware – as if we didn’t – that it’s a Disney show, the genie interpolates samplings of tunes from other Disney efforts into the mammoth fantasia, ‘Friend Like Me’, that accompanies his being released from the lamp. The portly James Monroe Iglehart plays the genie in a non-stop awe-inspiring marathon of joshing, dancing (including a cartwheel and some tap) and harmless showbiz bitchiness.
Counterbalancing the bonhomie of the genie is the evil vizier Jafar of Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the role in the movie. He has a cocktail party suavity, but he’s hardly scary, letting us know his deep-throated villainous laugh is merely an affectation. His nasty thoughts and machinations, too, are often undercut by a gag from his sidekick, Iago, embodied with raspy-voiced hysteria by Don Darryl Rivera. Remember the way Disney movies could scare the pants off you. There’s none of that here.
Adam Jacobs is a likeable, energetic Aladdin and he carries off his musical numbers effortlessly. He makes almost credible Aladdin’s desire to make his recently deceased mother proud of him – in some undefined way – as he sings the earnest declaration ‘Proud of Your Boy’. Courtney Reed’s Jasmine is a picture-perfect embodiment of the new style Disney princess, although she can’t quite make the script’s requisite sense of female empowerment seem more than mechanical.
There are about a dozen songs in the show, including those in the movie and those written for it but cut, plus some new ones. All the music is by the Disney stalwart, Alan Menken, with lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and the book-writer Beguelin. The most memorable is the ballad from the film, ‘A Whole New World’, sung by Aladdin and Jasmine as they float across the stage on a magic carpet against a star-filled sky. The carpet is the technical highpoint of the show, gliding through the air with no visible means of support. And the song isn’t magical enough to keep you from pondering how that carpet is staying afloat. (In case you’re wondering, it never floats out over the audience, though.)
Bob Crowley’s set designs glide nicely around the stage and help set the appropriate Arabian storybook mood without much surprise, but under Natasha Katz’s lighting they take on an eye-filling sumptuousness. So do the costumes of Gregg Barnes, which eventually pile on enough sequins and feathers to satisfy Flo Ziegfeld.
All in all, Aladdin comes across as old-fashioned children’s theatre, mounted with a humungous budget.
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