By ROY BERKO
Disney, whether it’s their theme parks, cruises or Broadway-style shows, has a special approach that excites kids as well as adults. Disney’s Aladdin, which is now on stage at the Key Bank State Theatre, is no exception.
The two tweens sitting next to me gushed after the show that they “loved it” because it was “so colorful.” Their favorite character? “Genie” they shouted in unison. Covered with yards of Mylar ribbon, which exploded during one of the production’s many showstoppers, they merrily skipped down the aisle to go home and dream of their magic carpet ride.
The musical, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Menken, is a magic carpet ride, both literally and figuratively.
Based on the 1992 Disney animated film “Aladdin,” the stage version basically sticks to the cinema’s story line, but makes some alterations that better fit the stage where animated monkeys and tigers only work in shows like The Lion King. Instead, Aladdin is blessed with three buddies to help him through his exploits, and add delight through their Three Stooges-like shenanigans. Jasmin gets three handmaidens, and Aladdin’s second wish is used to free him and his friends from capture, not to stop him from drowning, as it is in the movie.
The current Broadway version opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre in 2014 and was joined this year by Disney’s newest Great White Way entry, Frozen, currently playing at the St. James Theatre.
As is the case with most Disney shows, Aladdin has become a cottage industry entertainment giant. Besides the movies, the show is playing on board the Disney Cruise Line Fantasy, there is a touring company, and a version will be performed in India starting later this year. The animated classic starring Robin Williams, its soundtrack and, now, the original cast album are all best sellers. Disney concessions, which account for everything from tote bags to T-shirts, also do a landmark business.
The story follows the charming young orphaned Aladdin, who, along with his three amigos, does petty stealing in a marketplace in the Arabian city of Agrabah, someplace in the Middle East, in order to get by.
Aladdin has big dreams, but does little in the way to get them.
Bad guy Jafar, Grand Vizier and assistant to the sultan, finds out there is a magical lamp which encases a Genie who can grant three wishes to its possessor. It’s a great way for Jafar to become the sultan. Unfortunately, the cave can only be entered by a pre-ordained chosen one, “the jewel in the rough.” The chosen one? Well, Aladdin, of course. (Hey, this is a Disney fairytale.)
Meanwhile, Princess Jasmine is in a tizzy because the law of the land says she must marry a prince. She’s not interested, but she has a three-day window of time and every prince that she’s offered isn’t to her liking. (We all know where this plot device is going!)
She sneaks out of the palace and goes to the bazaar. Aladdin and his friends are being chased by the royal guards after our hero stole a loaf of bread. The duo locks eyes and the adorable princess and gym-toned Aladdin are smitten.
And, so, the plot is laid for the Genie to grant Aladdin his wish to become a prince, thus being eligible to marry Jasmine. Of course, there are stumbles along the way, as well as lots of singing and dancing and a real magic carpet ride.
In the end, as is the case with all good tales of this ilk, guy gets girl, villain gets his just reward, and the audience goes home happy, many with lots of Disneyesque “stuff.”
The touring company is a visual and audio delight of “Arabian Nights” costumes, sets and music, with the appropriate tone for Disney’s first venture with a non-Caucasian princess.
The cast is character perfect. Michael James Scott is delightful as the wise-cracking, ad-libbing, bedeviling Genie. His cast-involving opening number sets a perfect tone for the show, and “Friend Like Me,” sung with Aladdin and the ensemble, evoked extended cheering.
Jonathan Weir’s evil Jafar was so effective in his character development that he was soundly booed by the audience in the curtain call. Jay Paranada, as his bumbling side-kick, Iago, with looks like Tweedle Dum from “Alice in Wonderland,” delighted.
Clinton Greenspan, he of handsome face, dark curly hair, nice singing voice, appealing personality and expressive eyes, beguiled as Aladdin. His well sung “Proud of Your Boy,” was one of the highlight serious moments in the fantasy.
His sidekicks, Babkak (Zac Bencal), Omar (Phillipe Arroyo) and Kassim (Jed Feder), were perfect foils. (Side note: Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre grad, Steel Burkhardt, played Kassim on Broadway).
Pretty Isabelle McCalla had the right spunk as Jasmine, one of the few Disney princesses with a backbone. Her nicely sung “These Palace Walls,” gave a clear picture of her desire to be her own person. “A Whole New World,” an Oscar winner for Best New Song, a duet between Greenspan and McCalla, received a beautiful rendition.
Casey Nicholaw’s creative direction and choreography were show-perfect.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Aladdin is a charming, well produced, escapist musical that gets a fine production. It’s a must see family-friendly show that should be enjoyed by everyone.
Disney’s Aladdin runs through May 27, 2018 at the Key Bank State Theatre. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or click here.
Roy Berko is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.