Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ is both dazzling and delightful
BOSTON – From the earliest days to the present – from “Beauty and the Beast, “ “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King,” to today’s “Frozen,” — Disney Theatrical’s magic has come to mean the best and the brightest designers, taking the best elements of successful animated features and transferring them almost seamlessly onto the stage.
Somewhat late to the party was “Aladdin,” which was a smash-hit 1992 animated film that won Oscars for best score and song but didn’t find its way to Broadway until February of 2014, after several tryouts. There it was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, with James Monroe Iglehart winning Best Featured Actor for his performance as Genie.
The good news is that the North American touring production of “Aladdin” at the Boston Opera House now through Aug. 5 is dazzling and delightful, with all ages able to share in the fun. The kids will love the spectacle, the color, the characters and special effects, and adults will enjoy the one-liners flying above the kids’ heads.
The score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin takes music from the animated film – including the Oscar-winning “A Whole New World”’ and Oscar-nominated “Friend Like Me” – and fleshes it out to 14 musical numbers in all, including two showstoppers: The aforementioned “Fried Like Me” and “Prince Ali.”
The cast jumps through hoops to entertain the audience in both absolutely spectacular numbers; in “Prince Ali,” the 37-member cast seems to recycle itself several times over with numerous costume changes and a parade of characters while the Genie’s having fun with “Let’s Make a Deal” and “Dancing with the Scimitars.”
The book by Beguelin is another strong point, full of pop and cultural references and always gently poking fun at itself, and while the book does not take itself too seriously, the show takes all of the other elements – songs, dance, the production values – very seriously and the result is a musical that is in the very best tradition of Disney Theatricals.
And while Iglehart stepped into the animated shoes of the late Robin Williams and won a Tony Award as the Genie, Michael James Scott is surely a worthy successor. His Genie is a hail fellow well met, a song and dance threat from the git-go who is the center of attention from the moment he first appears on stage at the outset to greet us and later emerges from the lamp to a huge ovation.
Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin and Isabelle McCalla as Princess Jasmine have all the chemistry you would expect of a two actors who are a couple on and off the stage, and they aren’t just a handsome couple; they have the the clean, clear voices to do justice to the score.
In this stage version, Aladdin is given three very different friends and sidekicks named Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo), and Kassim (Jed Feder); they provide some fun moments helping Aladdin evade capture, serving as “advance men” when Aladdin morphs into Prince Ali with the Genie’s help, and then storming the palace to try and save Aladdin.
There are a numbers of changes and plot twists that differ from the animated film, but at the core remains the villainous Jafar (Jonathan Weir), the Grand Vizier of the Kingdom of Agrabah who sees a route to becoming Sultan if the present Sultan (Jerald Vincent) passes away before Princess Jasmine marries a prince. That allows the princess an “Ahha” moment when she pointedly asks why she needs to marry a prince to run a kingdom she could run herself. Point taken by many in the audience.
A hilarious Jay Paranda is Jafar’s wise-cracking sidekick Iago, in the best tradition of other Disney comic sidekicks such as Le Fou in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Jafar plans to use Aladdin as a pawn to get the lamp and the Genie, and the well-rehearsed evil laughs of both Jafar and Iago are taken right out of the playbook of the equally villainous Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.
The Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“Book of Mormon”) oversees it all, ensuring that “Aladdin” boasts the same skills and attention to detail that have marked his other work.
As for production values, the price of your ticket is right up there on stage. The dazzling special effects are by illusionist Jim Steinmeyer who worked with David Copperfield.
Add set design by the inimitable Bob Crowley, the equally accomplished Natasha Katz’s lighting, the talented Gregg Barnes’ sumptuous, colorful costumes, and Ken Travis’ sound design and ”Aladdin” is a treat for the eyes and ears.
And, of course, the magic carpet will fly, and the scene where it flies against a brilliant star-lit sky is breathtaking.
It took time to get“Aladdin” onto the stage, and it also meant wading through a series of tryouts until they got it right. They got it right.
The Disney Theatricals production of “Aladdin.” Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, Book by Chad Beguelin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. At the Boston Opera House through Aug. 5. Broadwayinboston.com.