by: Sandi Durell
From book to movie to stage – sometimes it works and other times it can be disaster. I reluctantly attended this mega-musical thinking ‘if I only had a kid with me . . . ‘ to immediately fall head over heals in love with a Genie and his lamp. “Aladdin,” Disney’s latest offering at the New Amsterdam Theatre, is simply . . . maaaahvelous!
The costumes, the sets, the kitsch and comedic fun made me feel like a kid again. I must first talk about James Monroe Iglehart – the Genie (Memphis, The 25th Annual…Spelling Bee, The Wiz) who steals the show in his billowy, brightly colored, flashy, ornate costumes – who prances and dances and is as sharp a cool cat of a character as I’ve ever seen, in his Cab Calloway scat number “Dancing with the Scimitars.” And when an Act I showstopper, “Friend Like Me,” creates a standing ovation with thunderous applause, you know something special is going on.
We all know the story of Aladdin having basically grown up on the fairy tale romance about a Genie and a lamp that can grant you 3 wishes – anything you want, and a magic carpet that can swiftly fly you anywhere.
In the hands of book writer Chad Beguelin, Aladdin’s monkey has morphed into a Marx Bros. like trio (Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz, Brandon O’Neill) to add more shtick and clowning, as the magical music of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman effectively provides swing, jazz and pop to accentuate the positive throughout.
We even love the villain Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) who’s more of a caricature kook seeking power, alongside his mini henchman Iago – Don Darryl Rivera, (no longer a parrot) who reminded me of Bud Abbott.
Aladdin (Adam Jacobs), looking buff in his fez, mini vest and harem pants, is a spunky charmer of a street kid who gets by stealing what he needs in the market place where the multi-national cast comes to life in extravagant glitz in Gregg Barnes’ costumes. Speaking of costumes there is everything from billowing silks, feathers, sequins, fans in a rainbow plethora of color. As the Genie so aptly says “Even our poor people look faaabulous!”
As for his romantic counterpart, Jasmine (Courtney Reed), she is vocally lovely to listen to but somewhat lacking and that might have to do with the chemistry between she and Aladdin. Their magic carpet ride into the heavens is wondrous to behold (“A Whole New World”) as they float away on what appears to be a carpet without any detectable wires (ah, technology), but where’s the real emotional love? She is (as all the Disney girls) high-spirited with a mind of her own telling her father the Sultan (Clifton Davis) “why are you so determined to pawn me off to any Tom, Dick or Hassim . . .,” as he attempts to find her a suitable prince as a husband.
The scenic design by Bob Crowley is spectacular – the Cave of Wonders, mini towers of glitter – the marketplace – all inspired, and brought to life by Natasha Katz’ exceptional lighting. Kudos to Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon) for his brilliant direction and choreography.
So it didn’t matter after all that I saw “Aladdin” without a kid in tow. I was the kid!
This storybook musical will leave you feeling happy.
“Aladdin” – New Amsterdam Theatre, NYC – running . . . forever!