By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
For those mired in the mundane machinations of partisan politics as acted out on TV screens, here’s a simple suggestion. Move on over to the Saenger Theater and get a seat to see Disney’s Aladdin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, this national tour should be all anyone needs to bring them out of their doldrums and depression.
Based on the highly successful Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice-penned animated musical classic of 1992, this live musical adaptation first bowed on Broadway in 2014 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Many of the original songs were retained from the film that famously starred Robin Williams, but also contain new lyrics by Chad Beguelin, who is also credited as having written the book.
Although Aladdin, played by Clinton Greenspan, and Princess Jasmine, played by Lissa deGuzman, are the actual leads of the show – and they are both absolutely superb – the real star is Trevor Dion Nicholas, who plays the Genie.
In numbers such as “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” Nicholas is front and center and the man in charge. He dances with the best of the ensemble and prances when it’s necessary, mugging to the audience as he breaks that not-so-imaginary fourth wall.
Greenspan is terrific as the street rat prophesied to be a “diamond in the rough.” He moves about the stage with the grace of a gazelle, leaping and catapulting himself from one tight fix into another.
Aladdin’s motivation is expressed most eloquently in one of the opening numbers, “Proud of Your Boy.” In this song, the title character admits his remorse in not living up to his deceased parents ideals, especially those of his mother. Meanwhile, Princess Jasmine feels like a prisoner confined to her opulent quarters. She reveals her feelings in “These Palace Walls.”
When Aladdin meets the princess, who escapes the sultan’s palace in disguise, sparks start to fly. It is obvious they are destined to be with one another. But, how can a lowly, overgrown guttersnipe ever hope to attract, much less keep, a lady of royal blood?
Aladdin is aided in his search for love, fame and fortune by a band of best buds, who are in fact thieves Babkak, Omar and Kassim, played by Zach Bencal, Phillipe Arroyo and Jed Feder, respectively. Their camaraderie is celebrated in “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim,” a song cut from the animated film, but restored for the stage. They also have their share of comic pratfalls throughout the work and a wonderfully-choreographed sword fight in the Act Two song, “High Adventure.”
Playing the sultan is Jerald Vincent, a veteran of four previous national tours. Jafar, the evil vizier, is well-played by Jonathan Weir, who previously played Scar in The Lion King, another successful Disney stage production culled from its film library. Jay Paranada turns in a delightful comic performance as Jafar’s henchman Iago.
This touring production retains much of what has made the Broadway production one of the great success stories on the Great White Way, taking in an astounding gross of $1.9 – $2.1 million per week. Part of the formula here is to maintain high standards for dancers and singers and be true to the original staging. Parts of this show are absolutely magical, including a spellbinding production number with a genuine flying carpet in “A Whole New World” and eye-popping spectacular effects in the two opening numbers — Act One’s “Arabian Nights” and Act Two’s “Prince Ali.”
The Aladdin Touring Orchestra is conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman and has a rich and full sound as demanded by Menken’s music. Lighting design is well executed by Natasha Katz and the costumes designed by Gregg Barnes are nothing less than sensational. Scenic design by Bob Crowley is also noteworthy, retaining much of what was onstage at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Disney’s Aladdin continues at the Saenger Theater, 1111 Canal Street. Show times vary, with the house dark on Monday. For tickets, click here or call 504-525-1052.