"Aladdin" on Broadway
by Anthony Chase
The name you will want to remember is James Monroe Iglehart. He plays the Genie in the new musical stage adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin, and he is astonishing in this wry send-up of the entire Disney genre, and sure to win a Tony Award.
You might also like to know that Aladdin now moves into first place as the very best of the Disney musicals. Yes, The Lion King has that amazing puppetry and those remarkable costumes, but at its worst it is childishly dumb. Aladdin is never dumb. Yes, it takes about a half an hour of cumbersome exposition before it takes off, but once Mr. Iglehart enters the scene, this show takes off and continues to soar, clear through to the curtain call.
Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw has worked pure magic in shaping this tale of a poor boy in a fictitious Arabian town who uses a magic lamp to help win the love of a princess. Before this, Nicholaw was best known for his work on Drowsy Chaperone, Spamalot, and The Book of Mormon. Now he will be simply be known as a Broadway magician—in the fullest sense of that word.
The songs, of course, are by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. The familiar tunes from the film have been augmented by tunes that were cut from the film and others. Bob Crowley’s pop-up-book scenic design is entirely delightful, including a magic carpet that navigates through the air with no visible means of support.
While Mr. Iglehart is sure to get most of the attention, make no mistake. The entire cast is strong. Adam Jacobs is adorable as Aladdin, with a physique that inspires endless jokes about a costume that involves a vest, but no shirt. Courtney Reed successfully fulfills that new Disney archetype—beautiful girl with the spirit of Gloria Steinem. Jonathan Freeman, who provided the voice for evil Jafar in the film, also plays the character onstage. Animal sidekicks have been banished from the stage; instead, Iago (a parrot in the animated version) is played with evil charm by diminutive Don Darryl Rivera.
The success of the production is the skill with which the magic of animated film has been replaced with the equally potent magic of live musical theater; and the wit that has been used to make playful fun of the entire Disney franchise. The result is a show that is charming and sophisticated. Put Aladdin on your list.
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