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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the New Amsterdam


Sure, there’s a magic carpet that takes off, but Aladdin, which marks Disney’s eighth musical on Broadway over a 20-year period, looks and feels more like a revival of a lively, carefree 1950s musical comedy than the kind of overproduced, high-tech spectacular that Disney has become so firmly associated with. (Kismet could easily be performed using the same set and costumes.) And it’s not an unwelcome change.

After Beauty and the Beast, which was essentially a live recreation of the film version, Disney, as if trying to gain artistic credibility, consistently looked to high-profile directors with backgrounds in visual design or opera. This approach resulted in both big hits (The Lion King, Mary Poppins) and big misses (Tarzan, The Little Mermaid).

But like Newsies, which arrived on Broadway two years ago and is still running, Aladdin has been helmed by a director-choreographer with an eye for good old-fashioned Broadway showmanship. In this case, it’s Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, The Drowsy Chaperone). One wonders what Aladdin would have been like had it been directed by Franesca Zambello, who helmed Aladdin – a Musical Spectacular at Disneyland before doing The Little Mermaid on Broadway, which turned out to be a train wreck.  

Although Aladdin sticks closely to the playful tone of the 1992 film, it has been altered to reflect the loss of animation’s fluidity. The Genie, whose voice and shape would constantly shift, is now portrayed by the superb James Monroe Iglehart as a jazzed-up, charismatic narrator. The animal companions (Aladdin’s monkey, Jasmine’s tiger, Jafar’s parrot) have been replaced by humans who serve virtually the same function.

The original score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) has been bloated with inferior new songs to join the familiar tunes (“A Whole New World,” “Friend Like Me”), the best of which is “Proud of Your Boy,” a ballad that was cut from the film. “Arabian Nights,” the short opener of the film, has been expanded to incorporate narrative exposition. “Friend Like Me,” a genuine showstopper if there ever was one, has also been expanded to cover about 10 minutes. There is even an overture to highlight Danny Troob’s jazzy orchestrations.

Tongue-in-cheek one-liners (often involving Middle-Eastern food) and inside jokes paying heed to the original film and other Disney classics have also been added.

Jonathan Freeman, who voiced Jafar in the film, has returned to the role with all those deep and dark intonations intact. As Aladdin and Jasmine, the photogenic Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed come off essentially as ethnic Ken and Barbie. Pretty faces, likable personalities, little else.

If Bob Crowley’s geometric set design is limited, the flying carpet effect has a lovely simplicity, and Gregg Barnes’ eye-popping costumes and Natasha Katz’s splashy lighting easily dominate visually. All things considered, Aladdin is a Technicolor crowd-pleaser full of campy humor, memorable tunes and show-stopping choreography, which is a lot more than can be said about some other new musicals that were adapted from well-known films. 


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