ALADDIN - Reviewed by Stephen Radosh


ALADDIN continues Disney’s successful stream of live musicals adapted from animated hits, LITTLE MERMAID and TARZAN being notable exceptions.  With an excellent score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin,  fluid atmospheric sets designed by Bob Crowley, Natasha Katz’s effective lighting design and the myriad of colorful costumes created by Gregg Barnes, ALADDIN proves to be a thoroughly enchanting evening of theatrical magic.  As a fan of magic, I must mention that the various impressive and surprising stage illusions were created by the legendary Jim Steinmeyer.  After seeing this show, you will believe that they really were on a flying carpet!
 
If you somehow missed the animated classic, now celebrating is 26 anniversary, here is a brief synopsis.  Set in the fictional city of Agrabah, the story revolves around the street rat Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) who, after a chance meeting while she is in disguise, falls in love with the Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed).  The evil Grand Vizier (aren’t they all?) Jafar (Jonathan Weir) convinces Aladdin to enter the Cave of Wonders to retrieve a lamp.  After being trapped in the cave, Aladdin accidently rubs the lamp and out pops the genie (Michael James Scott) offering Aladdin the usual 3 wishes.  The rest of the musical revolves around Aladdin’s attempts to win the hand of his beloved Jasmine while Jafar manipulates everyone to become the next Sultan.  You don’t need 3 guesses to figure out how things end.
The musical follows the animated feature in many ways but as always changes needed to be made to deal with physical reality versus the possibilities of animation and the needed expansion time-wise to fill two-plus hours in the theatre versus 80 minutes at the movies.  Most of these changes occurred in the sidekick characters for Aladdin and Jafar.  In the film, Aladdin had a monkey named Abu as a sidekick who helped him get what he needed to exist.  On stage,  Abu became a trio of friends who, along with Aladdin, form a sort of Four Musketeers quartet.  Each has a distinct personality and favorite obsession (food, women, etc.) One of the most entertaining songs added for the stage is High Adventure sung by this trio of friends as they plan to rescue Aladdin from Jafar’s clutches.  By and large, their addition to the show is actually an improvement to the original.  Not as successful is the substitution of a real person in place of Jafar’s wise-cracking parrot Iago. As voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the animated feature, Iago was the perfect comic foil to Jafar’s straight man.  He was at times a sycophant, at other times sarcastically critical but even at his most irritating he was always funny.  Unfortunately I found the live version of Iago to be mostly irritating and adding nothing to the musical.  Luckily his role is not so large as to detract from the pleasures of the rest of the production.
Aladdin is played by Adam Jacobs, the original Broadway Aladdin.  The night I saw the performance the role was played by Clinton Greenspan who, though not as visually close to the animated Aladdin as Mr. Jacobs is, nevertheless proved to be a very warm and likeable Aladdin with a strong voice and no slouch in the dancing department either.  Courtney Reed’s Jasmine is a bit feistier than her film counterpart and a touch more shrewish until she realizes her love for Aladdin.  But she has a strong stage presence and does a great job with “A Whole New World,” her duet with Aladdin, in addition to her two other songs added for the stage.  As Jafar, Jonathan Weir does the appropriate amount of scenery chewing as the villain of the piece.  But it is Michael James Scott as the Genie who walks away with the show.  From the opening number “Arabian Nights” given to him in the stage production, he has the audience in the palm of his hands.  His has impeccable comic timing and just the right amount of camp mixed in to make his performance the show’s centerpiece.  It has been a long time since I have seen a number stop a show cold but Mr. Scott does that very thing with “Friend Like Me.”  That number alone is worth the price of admission.
Aladdin is at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood now through March 31, 2018.  So do yourself a favor and hop on your magic carpet and head to Agrabah, I mean Los Angeles, for a really fun night at the theatre.