I went to Aladdin
about two weeks ago and was so overwhelmed at how spectacular it was, that it's taken me until now to take in everything that wowed me about it and put it into a semi-comprehensible review.Caveats:
these may be deal-breakers, so if you're on the fence about watching Aladdin, maybe you should know what's not in the show first before you get disappointed and then blame the show, the creative team, the actors, etc. Caveat 1: This is not a simply a movie-to-stage transfer with some added songs. A lot of the negative reviews, from critics and most unfortunately, fans, seem to stem from the expectation of something more similar to the movie (I was initially purist about it, but after opening my mind to the changes, embraced them).
Caveat 2: Aladdin is a comedy. And no, not just because of the Genie this time. Every single character except for Aladdin and Jasmine are comical characters, and even Aladdin has his moments as an adorable derp.
Caveat 3: The second act is not drama and tension-filled, so those who really want a dramatic second act should probably stay home. The fun romp continues with Jafar only briefly interrupting it–he too is largely a comic character, so be warned that this is a comedy comedy, not an action-adventure comedy.
Caveat 4: The staging of Prince Ali Reprise has no magic. It is still the denoument of the show, and has the same purpose of exposing Prince Ali as Aladdin, but be warned the sorcerer/snake part is not in the show. It wasn't in the Seattle version of the show either, so don't watch it if you can't bear to part with the snake/sorcerer scene.
Caveat 5: No animals or animal puppets. So many fans are complaining about this. Once again, I didn't miss Abu and I liked Iago as a man.
Caveat 6: Jafar no longer laughs maniacally and psychotically, but in an exaggerated sinister fashion, as if he was a mustache-twirling villain.
Caveat 7: Several of the old Ashman songs that were present in the Seattle pilot production were cut in the Broadway production: the Arabian Nights reprises and Call Me A Princess specifically.
Caveat 8: Humiliate the Boy isn't in the Broadway show, and Why Me? was cut.
Caveat 9: Self-aware lines for most characters. I'd say the Genie is the only one that breaks the 4th wall, since Jafar and Iago know their roles as villains, but they don't acknowledge the audience the way the Genie does. Same for Aladdin's friends, I think, but I could be wrong.
Caveat 10: No slave Jasmine scene.
Undaunted? Okay, lets go!Costumes:
It was like I was seeing a million colors all at once. I've seen a lot of colorful musicals, but this one tops them all in terms of sheer vibrancy and boldness. The costumes on everyone are ornate and shimmering--not a single character's clothes look drab or fade into the background. Even Jafar's mostly-black costume shines! I don't know anything about fabrics, but they had the appearance of being solid, like more of clothing than a costume. Gregg Barnes gave us, with Aladdin, the visual equivalent of a ten-course meal. Music:
Alan Menken's score is bigger, bolder, and without a doubt filled the theater and then some. The orchestra sounded really full, giving Arabian Nights
this epic, immense feel that totally transfixed me. Songs:
It's a harmonious blend of the old and new: three of the old songs by Howard Ashman that weren't in the movie: Proud of Your Boy
, Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim
, and High Adventure
. Proud of Your Boy
moistened my eyes, Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim
was an irreverent good time, and High Adventure
was adrenaline-pumping and also irreverent. It was wonderful and magical to see these old Ashman songs come to life.
All of the Tim Rice songs, One Jump Ahead
, A Whole New World
and Prince Ali Reprise
are there except for Why Me?
, which I missed, but more on Chad Beguelin soon.
The new songs by Chad Beguelin appealed to me unevenly, and this is entirely a matter of personal taste and you'll probably note my undisguised bias. Beyond the Palace Walls
didn't do it for me, but I've seen reviews where Jasmine fans love this song, and it's a good song for Jasmine that explains her burning desire to see the world. Dare I say in some respects she is more adventurous than she was in the movie. She is no longer quite as sassy since Call Me A Princess
was cut, but I can imagine people can sympathize with her longing. Somebody's Got Your Back
did it for me even less, but Genie fans will love it because it's another Genie number – he leads Arabian Nights
, has Friend Like Me
, leads Prince Ali
, so he has four songs: Genie fans will not be disappointed. It's a very fun buddy song, too, gives you that feel-good feeling that everything's going to be A-okay now. A Million Miles Away
expands on Aladdin and Jasmine's attraction to each other, and it's a lovely song.
The Sultan gets a Prince Ali Reprise
, attesting to the stronger personality of the Sultan.Diamond in the Rough
follows Proud of Your Boy
a few scenes later, subverting Aladdin's hopes in the Jafar way. Diamond in the Rough
adds to the long tradition of Jafar songs – lots of weaving, snakelike verses, wordplay, wit, light mockery, and evil charisma. It's a heresy, but I prefer it over the Prince Ali Reprise
Chad Beguelin's dialogue I liked better, though a lot of critics and fans didn't like the corny jokes. This is really old-style comedy, where every line is played for a laugh. Again, it's a matter of personal taste. There were several jokes that weren't only corny but highly irreverent, which was a pleasant surprise. There was also lots of current pop culture humor, and slapstick humor, too. Old-school but in a new way.
Some fans were disappointed by A Whole New World
not being the climax of the show, which seems to have been moved to High Adventure
, emphasizing Aladdin's friendship with Babkak, Omar, and Kassim rather than the romantic arc between Aladdin and Jasmine.
And as always, happily for me, the denoument is Prince Ali Reprise
This is a dance-heavy show, and for those who like the old-style interruption of a song to do a dance number, this will give you another ten-course meal. I'm in love with the dances during Arabian Nights
, and the comical dance in Diamond in the Rough
, but I thought the big showstopper went on a little long during Friend Like Me
--it felt like ten minutes. But we loved every minute of it!
But there is no doubt that Casey Nicholaw's choreography is eye-popping--so many dances and so many different kinds of dances and it was high energy pumped up to over 9,000.
I also really enjoyed the chase scene during One Jump Ahead
, and the fight scenes with Aladdin's friends against the guards. They were fun and sent the adrenaline racing.Lighting:
A lot of people complain about how it's too dark during A Whole New World
, but I liked that nighttime effect. The gold Cave of Wonders was really well-lit too, and I loved the green lighting during the scene where Jafar and Iago are thinking of what spell to use for the takeover plans. Natasha Katz did the lighting and it was very effective.Illusions:
People who actually know about illusions probably have things to complain about, but it looked like magic to me, and probably to a lot of kids. Jim Steinmeyer did the magic and it was so cool. My favorite effects were the Cave of Wonders, and Jafar changing into the Sultan's clothes and then into the red Genie's clothes. They happen in like the space of a second and I'm scratching my head, how did they do that? Sets:
Cave of Wonders–loved it. I also loved the palace set, it's really ornate and blue. The background that shows the outside of the palace creates a nifty illusion that the characters are headed towards or away from the palace. The same was with the desert, and that was really cool. The city set was especially lively and Aladdin did a lot of climbing and jumping on it. Bob Crowley did the sets and they were very awesome. Performers:Adam Jacobs – Wow, a Filipino-American! And not playing an Asian! Yay! I didn't know that at the time so when I watched it I was able to take in his performance without bias. He combines the boyish innocence of Ashman's original concept of Aladdin with the rakish bad boy-lite of the movie's Aladdin. My only critique is he was kind of breathless, but then with all that running and jumping around, who can blame him. ^^ Once again, I almost cried at Proud of Your Boy. ;__; His voice is very beautiful and moving.
Courtney Reed – Apparently a Latina! Her voice is lovely and has this kind of spunk to it that differentiates her from Lea Salonga's (a Filipina!) iconic, unforgettable voice. She kind of reminds me of Amneris. She reacted really strongly to Jafar's lie about Aladdin being executed, and I like how she made the role her own by being more effusive in certain places where Linda Larkin's Jasmine played it smaller. She's apparently getting slammed by the critics, and I was only bored by the love scenes--but, that's not her fault, nor Adam Jacobs'. : )
James Monroe Iglehart – The man is a force of nature – but then again, read nearly any review of his knockout performance and you'll see enthusiastic praise, that I won't repeat here. I don't agree with the vast bulk of reviews that Mr. Iglehart solely carried the show--that's not fair to the other actors and, my attention span on being what it is, during "Somebody's Got Your Back", I started to mentally drum my fingers. Don't get me wrong–he did phenomenal, cosmic work as the Genie. I just–don't like the Genie. Nothing against Mr. Iglehart's Genie–I didn't like Robin Williams' Genie either. The Genie is lauded as a scene-stealer but that's not really true--he masquerades as a supporting character but he really is the main character–just look how much screen and stage time he has!
You can't be the main character and steal the scene, or the show for that matter. However, Mr. Iglehart, though plays it giant, has good interaction and chemistry with the other actors during the less flashy dialogue scenes, unlike in the more movie-faithful California Adventures where the Genie keeps the show away from the other characters and sucks the vibrancy out from them, leading the audience only to care about one character: the Genie.
Jonathan Freeman – What can I say about Mr. Freeman that I haven't said already? He is truly making history by being a voiceover actor being able to recreate Jafar on stage and nail it as epically as he did 20+ years ago, each and every time. That's endurance. That's dedication. But not to live in the past, Jafar still feels fresh and vibrant, carrying out evil in different, surprising, and clever ways, and giving also what we've heard before, too: thundering with wicked, loud power during the Sultan/Genie scenes. I've always felt Jonathan Freeman is a comic gem, in a different way from the usual, fast-talking comedy. Whether watching Tito Swing in Shining Time Station,, or listening to the cruelly crisp Headwaiter on the soundtrack of She Loves Me, or watching clips of him dance and sing as Bert Bratt in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, as the hysterical Roger DeBris in the Producers on stage, or the officious and yet funny Grimsby in The Little Mermaid, and of course Jafar, hearing his voice makes me smile and laugh. (or die of fright XD) And now I saw him be Jafar physically and his performance made me laugh just as much : ) In vocal and physical performance, he maintains the subtle jokester in Jafar there were some jokes he made and one had me laughing so hard, I just can't remember what it was but it surprised me and I laughed. ^^ (and I died of fright again when he became the Sultan and then the red Genie.^^)
Jonathan Freeman's Jafar has always refused to be the straight man, to be a wholly gloomy, stony presence--Jonathan Freeman livens up what would normally be dark, statuesque evil, and shows us that evil can be snide, evil can be fun, evil can be comic and not necessarily in a slapstick or even a fast-talking way. Oh right, and don't forget sassy. -_^
The way he completely embodied Jafar's nuances, like seeing Jafar with all of his twisted hand movements and the particular energy coming off from him, that he was ever-reaching for something (particularly in the spellbook scene), and how he could go from big and hulking to light and airy during the dance sequences, just stunned me. : D I have nothing but respect for the guy. : D
Don Daryll Rivera – Another Fil-Am! Also not playing an Asian! : DDDDDD If movie Iago had big, flat teeth, then Mr. Rivera's Iago had jagged teeth. XD He was so abrasive, yet sycophantic to Jafar without it being disgustingly fawning. There's some equality in this master-servant relationship. : ) He also did an impressive high evil laugh. : D He screeched, he yelled, he bounced around, he threw himself on the floor, he was amazing. : D
Clifton Davis – A strong Sultan–what! OO It was interesting to see a strong Sultan in Aladdin and Clifton Davis did that well. He also played the authoritative father figure well with Jasmine. He played well off of Jafar, too, asserting his power over him though Jafar is a future heir to the throne. When restored to power, he figuratively spanks the defeated Jafar and Iago, showing everyone who is Sultan with his authority and embodies one thing that the movie Sultan lacked: dignity.
Dennis Stowe – A growly, deep Razoul, he embodies the righteous anger and authority of Razoul. Whenever you saw him you knew Aladdin was in trouble and things would get interesting. : )
Marisha Wallace – The fortune teller is screechy, crazy, and hilarious! It shows how much one can ham it up with just a few lines. : ) And her Spooky Voice was funny and raspy. : D
Michael James Scott, Jonathan Schwartz, Brandon O'Neill – The more inveterate thieves–I guess Aladdin is kind of like Tony and they're the Jets from West Side Story, they enshrined thievery and winking irreverence well. I can't remember who was the one who was always hungry, but he did a great job. They were the pun and joke masters on the hero's side, and their crowning glory of High Adventure was incredibly fun to watch, even with my short attention span. ^^
Jaz Sealey – Prince Abdullah was all princely and stand-up-straighty and imperious and stuff. He was all indignant when Jasmine rejected him but was dignified about it, a step up from Prince Achmed in the movie.
In the ensemble, I unfortunately don't know who was playing who but they were fantastic–setting the tone of mystery during Arabian Nights–there was one female dancer dressed all in red that held my attention, and the guards were all running around swinging swords and whirling their beautiful capes. And in the other scenes too, their high, explosive energy aimed to reach a Bollywood dance sequence and they succeeded, in my opinion. ^^ So awesome! ^^ ^^Final thoughts:
I really hope that fans will appreciate Aladdin on Broadway more and give it a chance, or if they've seen it and didn't like it, that it will grow on them. To see any Disney musical is a treat, and to see another addition is a bonus. And to see Aladdin, live on stage in all its hilarity and madcap fun, is a dream come true.