My Review of Disney’s Aladdin – The New Stage Musical
I had the opportunity to take in the new production of Disney’s Aladdin – the New Stage Musical, during its world-premiere preview run at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle the evening of July 16. Seattle happens to be a petri dish for new shows, aptly dubbed the place where “new musicals are born”. Such notable hits as Wicked, Hairspray and Memphis have all made their debut in the Emerald City. We bought our tickets on a whim, and I was definitely excited to see what Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong, in partnership with Disney Theatrical Productions, had up his sleeve for this new stage version of one of my favorite Disney animated features.
All in all, I’d describe the show as fantastic, a must-see that’s suited for kids and adults alike, especially if you’re familiar with the original Disney film. The cast was terrific – led by show-stopper James Monroe Iglehart as Genie. It’s no easy task to take an iconic comedic musical character like Robin Williams’ Genie and make it your own, but Mr. Iglehart delivers. His Genie is an amalgam of Williams’ portrayal and a modern-day soul man (who does a mean Oprah and drops “OMG” and “BFF” smoothly into the dialogue). It’s when we finally meet Genie and he pulls out all the stops for “Friend Like Me” near the close of Act 1, that the show really kicks into high gear.
Another highlight for me was the antics of Aladdin’s three amigos, Babkak, Omar and Kassim, who provide entertaining musical segues, an ongoing thread of food puns and fourth-wall-breaking quips that keep momentum throughout.
Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, respectively, had great on-stage chemistry and offered a genuinely believable romance. Their “A Whole New World” duet was moving and an amazing visual spectacle, however I found the tone of Jasmine’s “Call Me a Princess” number (a new song written for the stage production) a bit too “Kardashian” for my taste.
Though Aladdin and Jasmine’s animated companions, Apu and Rajah were noticeably absent (much to my chagrin), evil Jafar’s bird sidekick Iago was brought to life in human form via Don Darryl Rivera, who delivered a squawky, on-point performance complete with a tiny, shiny, steam-punkish chapeau topped with a billowy feather (and the scene where he was dressed as a “ghost” – randomly hilarious!). I was eagerly anticipating the entrance of other beastly characters during the extravagant “Prince Ali” number, and was extremely disappointed that there were no ginormous puppetry elephants, camels, or other creatures gracing the stage (if you’ve had the chance to see the Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular at Disneyland, you know what I’m talking about). I’m guessing that their absence is either a deliberate move by the Producers to distance this production from one of Disney’s other mega-stage hits, the Lion King, or just a straight-up stage management challenge. (My plea to the Producers: consider adding at least one bejeweled elephant, to give a little more “WOW!” to Prince Ali’s grand entrance. Pretty pretty please?)
Overall, the stage setting, lighting and special effects worked well. I especially liked the use of shadow puppetry segues and the lighting effects used to bring the “Cave of Wonders” tiger to life. There were a few times where it looked as it some of the sets props were wobbly or miscued, but that’s just the type of thing that the preview run is designed to flesh out.
All in all, this is a great show that will entertain theater goers of all ages, regardless of their affection for the Disney original. I highly recommend it and look forward to seeing how the Producers fine tune the show between now and the official premiere.