THE BASICS: DISNEY’S ALADDIN, a touring production of the 2011 Broadway musical presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino runs through Sunday evening, August 19, Tuesday through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 & 8, and Sunday at 1 & 6:30 (last show) at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Based on the 1992 Disney animated film “Aladdin” (featuring Robin Williams as the Genie) the touring stage musical features the delightful music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Pocahontas”) with clever lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin. The musical includes three songs originally written by Ashman for the film which were never used and four new songs written by Menken and Beguelin. It’s a more feminist take on the old “boy meets girl, complications ensue, boy gets girl back” which might be, from Jasmine’s point of view, restated as “girl meets boy, complications ensue, girl gets boy back” and judging from the number of would-be princesses in the audience, that message of empowerment is not a bad idea at all. Speaking last week with Lissa deGuzman who plays Jasmine, I got the feeling that she enjoys that.
After an over the top introduction to the show by the Genie, we meet Aladdin, a poor, young “street rat” who makes a living with his three buddies by thieving and conning his way through the market of the fictional city of Agrabah, all the while longing for some success in life (“Proud of your boy”). Meanwhile, Princess Jasmine is yearning for some freedom from her protected life in the castle and chafing at the endless line of potential suitors her father, the sultan, has lined up for her (“These Palace Walls”). The sultan’s evil Grand Vizier (aided and abetted by his sidekick Iago) has plans to marry Jasmine and rule the kingdom, but he needs a magic lamp and the power of the genie inside to make that happen. So, he tricks Aladdin into getting the lamp.
The musical includes three songs originally written by Ashman for the film which were never used and four new songs written by Menken and Beguelin.
Aladdin does indeed find the lamp, but now the Genie serves him, not the Grand Vizier, leading to one of the most dazzling numbers of the evening – “Friend Like Me” with a full stage, all-ensemble, multiple costume change, “let’s recreate on stage the magic of Robin Williams in the animated feature,” (I’m running out of superlatives here, folks) extravaganza. A favorite line in this beautifully choreographed chaos? Towards the end, descending a staircase in a scene reminiscent of the great Busby Berkeley, the Genie shouts “Give me a doggy bag, ‘cause I’m bringing it home!” And he did bring it. It was one of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen at Shea’s and the audience went appropriately crazy with extended applause.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: On the Sunday evening when I was at Shea’s, Michael James Scott played the Genie (and will through August 16) while Jafar was played by standby Adam Stevenson and Aladdin was played by ensemble member Gary Cooper. I thought each of those did a fine job and while I have no way to compare, it seemed that both Stevenson and Cooper may have put a little extra energy into their roles, thinking “I’m young, scrappy, and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot.” (Okay, those are HAMILTON lyrics, but you get my point.)
Speaking of other musicals, during the show stopping end of Act One’s “Friend Like Me” I kept thinking of Kander and Ebb’s CHICAGO and the lyrics: “Give ’em the old razzle dazzle / Razzle Dazzle ’em / Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it / And the reaction will be passionate / Give ’em the old hocus pocus / Bead and feather ’em / How can they see with sequins in their eyes?” SEQUINS!!! Had the costume designer Gregg Barnes given me some insider trading information to invest in sequins, I’d be a rich man today. When Aladdin and Jasmine sing, in “A Whole New World” the lyrics “Unbelievable sights / Indescribable feeling / Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling / Through an endless diamond sky” they could have been singing about the number of sequins, not diamonds, at end of Act One.
Other highlights were Jasmine’s “backup singers” – her attendants, Olivia Donalson, Liv Symone, and Annie Wallace who had particularly sweet voices, creating a particularly fine female quartet. And, the character Iago, played by Jay Paranada was great unexpected fun.
So, any downsides? By Sunday night, Lissa deGuzman was having a little trouble flatting her top notes. I’m sure after Monday off, she’ll be fine. Also, the “magic carpet” was a little on the hokey side, but there was so much other stage magic throughout the evening, we can let that go. And, while overall there are so many plot devices to amuse the audience, and several of those certainly include our two young lovers, I got the feeling that they each had too much going on in their lives to fully commit to one another. These kids today. They’re so busy. What can you do?
If you want to revitalize your love of Broadway, this show will do it.
UP NEXT: ONCE IN MY LIFETIME: A FOOTBALL FANTASY (in which the Bills win a Superbowl) at Shea’s Smith Theatre (August 28 – September 8). HAMILTUNES: AN AMERICAN SINGALONG (for Curtain Up! at Shea’s on September 14). GENTLEMEN PREFER DIVAS with O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (part of the 2018-2019 M&T Bank Broadway Series at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre).
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!