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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 30
Charming Aladdin comes to life
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Charming Aladdin comes to life

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Aladdin
5th Avenue Theatre
Through July 31


If you follow the trends on Broadway, you will notice that the transformation from movie to stage musical is nothing new. There's no better example than the Mouse's invasion of the Great White Way: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, and The Little Mermaid have all crossed over from Disney celluloid to lavish stage production (some with better results than others).

The latest to make this journey is Aladdin, produced in partnership between Disney and the 5th Avenue Theatre. Based on the film of the same name, this musical opens a whole new world for people to experience the Disney version of The Book of 1001 (Arabian) Nights.

The story should be familiar after the popularity of the 1992 animated film. Aladdin is an orphan boy living in the streets of a fictional Arabian city who survives by using his wit and charm. Doing his best to avoid police capture, Aladdin dreams of a better life for himself where he'd live in the palace and enjoy the benefits of royalty. What he doesn't know is that the palace has its own issues. The sultan's daughter, Jasmine - a strong-willed, no-nonsense girl - won't marry any of the pompous and arrogant suitors who have come to woo her. The befuddled sultan turns to his evil advisor Jafar for the answers, but Jafar is privately plotting the sultan's overthrow. Aladdin manages to escape death, with the help of the magic Genie, becomes a prince, woos the princess, and learns a major Disney lesson: Always be yourself.

Adam Jacobs plays the street-urchin hero perfectly. He is the ideal Disney leading man, handsome and clean-cut with a boy-next-door smile and appeal. The quality of both his speaking and singing voices comes through and, despite the sub-optimal acoustics at the 5th Avenue, he can be heard clearly by the audience whether he is speaking or singing. His character emotes charm, and Jacobs takes Aladdin from a cartoon to a three-dimensional and true character.

Jonathan Freeman does a wonderful job with the role of the evil wazir, Jafar. The rich quality to his voice makes it easy to recognize him from the original Disney animated feature, and he recreates the villainous role well on stage. He has the maniacal laugh down to a science, and he uses it as a tool to further expand his character.

The true star of this musical is James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. Like its film predecessor, this character is the center of attention from the moment he first appears. His larger-than-life personality and energy explodes out of him with a natural grace, leaving the audience wondering what exactly was scripted and what is improvisation. Whether it's using his baggy pants as a prop or his facial expressions, Iglehart delivers the true meaning of musical theater's comedy. He wonderfully combines camp, humor, good acting, and a powerful singing voice to make this character come alive.

If you are coming to see the musical based on your love of the original, please note that many changes are included in this manifestation. All three of the characters' sidekicks have been altered. Iago, Jafar's parrot, is now human, played delightfully comically by Don Darryl Rivera. Three female attendants have replaced Jasmine's pet tiger, and the magical carpet character has been shaved down a great deal. Aladdin now has three human friends to help him in/out of danger (instead of the monkey Apu): Babkak (Brian Gonzales), Omar (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), and Kassim (Brandon O'Neill). They also serve as narrators throughout the entire production. While adding comic relief most of the time, the trio tended to overplay the schtick and their campy humor was overdone.

The original songs of Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and Tim Rice are recreated for the stage. Nine new songs have been included - three songs written specifically for this musical, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The remaining six were originally written for the film version, but were cut for a variety of reasons. While they are all decent songs, one or two of them just didn't have the feel of the others, making them seem out of place. Rest assured, the recognizable classics are included: 'One Jump Ahead' and 'Friend Like Me' are done well and are definitely crowd pleasers. The 'A Whole New World' scene is absolutely charming. Riding on the magic carpet, the two love interests sing this beautifully done ballad while sailing through an evening sky dotted with starlight.

The show is a work in progress. There are some things that didn't work. From the very beginning, the musical breaks the fourth wall to the audience, becoming way too self-aware. The script either needs to tone it down to emphasize the humor, or kick it up several more notches making it over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek - the musical Xanadu is the perfect example where the latter technique worked well. Right now, the references break the continuity and place that humor in limbo, giving it the feel of a more amateur production than this show deserves.

Aladdin makes good on the Disney reputation. It's a perfect family show, sanitized and suitable for all ages. The humor is definitely rated 'G' (more like 'Gee whiz!'), with no references to anything controversial. It's fun, flashy, enjoyable, and entertaining.

The story of Aladdin is only a small part of The Book of 1001 (Arabian) Nights. Although it has had many incarnations, the Disney Corporation took on the project and released its animated full-feature film in 1992, utilizing the voices of Robin Williams as the Genie and Lea Salonga as the singing voice for Jasmine. The movie would go on to be nominated for three Grammy Awards (winning Best Instrumental Written for a Film and Best Song), and five Academy Awards (including Best Song and Best Original Score).

This stage production marks the 11th premier musical produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre. Five of those shows (Hairspray; The Wedding Singer; Shrek, the Musical; Memphis; and Catch Me if You Can) have gone on to Broadway and were nominated for Best Musical Tony Awards. Two of them, (Hairspray and Memphis) have won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Aside from Aladdin, the 5th Avenue Theatre will be producing two other original musicals in their upcoming season.

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