Disney can show you the world. Shining. Shimmering. Splendid. And given the mid-show standing ovation for “Friend Like Me” at every performance of Broadway’s Aladdin and the oohs and aahs of the young children who witness the literal magic carpet ride the show depicts, it’s safe to assume that Disney has its latest long-runner. (Now whether it can ever unseat The Lion King as the fourth longest-running show ever is another question.) In other news this week, Chris Pine and Lauren Ambrose will be taking on Sam Shepard’s lovers-in-squabble drama Fool for Love for three weeks in Williamstown, Mass. this summer, Daniel Radcliffe spoke to EW about his return to the NYC stage as the lead in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, Norm Lewis will become the first African-American to star as Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, beginning May 12 (opposite his Little Mermaid costar Sierra Boggess), and Tony winner Nina Arianda makes a long-awaited return to the stage (Off Broadway this time) in a new period play (click on the links below for reviews of this and other new productions of the week below).
Aladdin Senior editor Thom Geier checked out the new spare-no-expense Disney extravaganza, and deems the results a family-friendly night out that won’t make adults cringe. As he writes: “As staged by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, it’s part children’s theater, part magic show, and part Nick at Nite sitcom—complete with broad acting and groan-inducing puns…this is one of the better Disney stage musicals, complete with several eye-popping production numbers that benefit from Nicholaw’s spirited choreography, Bob Crowley’s elaborate and chameleonic sets, and Gregg Barnes’ glittery costumes. EW grade: B
Appropriate Branden Jacobs-Jenkins — already in the watch-out-for category of young, emerging playwrights — takes a stab at Southern Gothic family dysfunction in a new play at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre. And EW’s Stephan Lee affirms him as a worthy successor to Tracy Letts and Sam Shepard (him again), declaring the play “an uncommonly deft dramatic and technical achievement and perhaps a star-making production for Jacobs-Jenkins…the play clocks in at over two hours, but thanks to the writing and tight direction by Liesl Tommy, it speeds along.” EW grade: A-
Bayside! The Musical! Zack, A.C., Kelly, Jessie, Lisa (and yes, Screech) become reborn in a new spoof musical from the team that presented last year’s hot Off Broadway bacchanalia Showgirls! The Musical!. Does the conceit work as well for Mr. Belding versus Nomi Malone? Taste be damned, Marc Snetiker had a fine old time: “If you’ve never seen an episode of Saved by the Bell, you’ll be utterly lost, and those with only a passing familiarity should be aware that 85 percent of the script is based on inside jokes from the show. But as long as you can recognize show locales like The Max and the beach club or storylines like Jessie’s caffeine addiction, Screech’s nerdy girlfriend, and Kelly’s money problems, you’re in for a supremely funny throwback delight.” EW grade: B+
Harmony You won’t see a girl named Lola (she was a showgirl…you can hum the rest) but L.A. finally sees a full-fledged production of Barry Manilow’s true-life-based, original musical about a vocal sextet during World War II broken up by the Nazi regime. Jake Perlman says the production should satisfy the curiosity of Fanilows everywhere: “The group consists of six fully capable singing and dancing actors. While each gets his own moment to shine, the standouts are Will Blum as the former waiter Lesh and Chris Dwan as the closeted Dr. Erich [but] in the end, six may be more leading men than a single show can properly handle.” EW grade: B
Tales From Red Vienna After her bold one-two punch of leading roles in Born Yesterday and Venus in Fur (for which she won the Best Actress Tony two years ago), red-hot Nina Arianda comes back to NYC in a new play by David Grimm about a widower struggling through 1920 Vienna. Thom Geier calls the star “luminous” but concedes some unevenness: “It’s as if Grimm was providing a self-consciously modern translation of a dusty, old period play, a feeling that’s reinforced by [director Kate] Whoriskey’s decision to have the cast speak in their natural American accents though their situations are particular to European life a century ago.” EW grade: B