'Aladdin': EW review
The clapping starts during the overture, as the orchestra strikes up the familiar notes of Alan Menken’s Oscar-winning score. And it’s hard to resist the toe-tapping charms of ”Friend Like Me” or the lush ballad ”A Whole New World.” On stage, as on screen, Aladdin is an anomaly in the Disney animated hit parade. Yes, there’s a princess, Jasmine (Courtney Reed, buxom but wobbly-voiced), who pays lip service to female empowerment, but it’s the title character who drives the action. As the young thief Aladdin, the buff and adorable Adam Jacobs seems like a 3-D cartoon, with a strong tenor but acting that’s decidedly more 2-D.
Not that Aladdin calls for much depth. 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 (”Welcome to Dancing With the Scimitars!”). James Monroe Iglehart plays the genie as a cross between Robin Williams (who voiced the role in the 1992 film) and RuPaul. He brings welcome energy, particularly in the overlong first act, but his faux jive and finger-snapping can wear as thin as one of Scheherazade’s veils. More grating are the stock villains of the show, the scheming would-be sultan Jafar (the mellifluously voiced Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the role in the film) and his sidekick, Iago (Don Darryl Rivera, who plays a human version of the movie’s parrot but is just as squawkingly irksome).
Overall, 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.
As in many a Disney stage production, the big showstopper isn’t even human: During ”A Whole New World,” a flying carpet carries our lovers aloft in a night-time ride, swooping and spinning with how’d-they-do-that wonder. (Jim Steinmeyer and Jeremy Chernick are credited with designing the onstage illusions and special effects.) It deserves its own curtain call. B