By Beki Pineda
ALADDIN – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin; Book by Chad Beguelin; Directed by Casey Nicholaw. Presented by Denver Center Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through April 28, 2018. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
Wowee – Wow – Wow!! What a spectacular three hour visual feast!! From the moment the overture starts till the last curtain call, your toes are tapping, your body is moving and you’re smiling and laughing out loud. The Disney Magic team pulled out all the stops on this one.
The show has been criticized as not giving the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine enough of a history – separate and together – that the audience cares about them. I disagree with this criticism completely. Clinton Greenspan and Isabelle McCalla as these characters imbue them with an honesty and sincerity that hints at their back stories and gives them more depth than just cartoon characters. Their meeting in the marketplace as they flee together from the palace guards gives them a “Tony and Maria” moment which leads to a sweet scene as they discover their similarities.
The Genie played by larger-than-life Michael James Scott is a singing dancing cartoon character that is all heart and joy; a loving homage to the late Robin Williams’ work in the original movie version. You have the feeling that, given the opportunity, Mr. Scott could vamp on stage for hours with the same spontaneity and ease that he displays in the opening number (“Arabian Nights”) and the show-stopping finale to Act I (“A Friend Like Me”) when he extols the virtues of having a Genie as a friend.
The villains – Jafar and Iago – are appropriately evil and comic at the same time. The ensemble is full of talented singers and dancers who can step into small roles and move into different styles of dancing with ease and polish. Bollywood, tap, Ziegfield-style show girls – all are celebrated.
Special kudos must go to the production team that pulled together the magical effects, the brilliant sets, and the glittery costumes. The Illusion Designer was Jim Steinmeyer who created the Flying Carpet for the “A Whole New World” song in which Aladdin introduces Jasmine to the world outside the palace. But that was just the beginning. The Cave of Wonders where Aladdin finds the Magic Lamp and the Genie inside is a marvel of lighting effects, shooting stars, magic tricks and illusions one after the other. Almost a visual overload that just delights over and over.
The Costume Designer Gregg Barnes has created a spectacular montage of color to delight the eye and adorn the players. Then in a startling departure makes the opening number of Act II an homage to WHITE. The three magical on-stage quick-changes of Jafar from his traditional black costume to a white suit as he makes himself the Sultan to a red outfit as he is tricked into the lamp defies belief. You see it happening and still you can’t believe what you have seen.
There are delights in this show for adults and children alike. My only concern is that kids – seeing this spectacular show as their introduction to live theatre – will expect every later show to be as amazing. Disney has set the bar for a kid’s expectations higher than most children’s theatre productions will be able to achieve. So – please – the second time you take your child to a show, let them know that this may not be Disney. But do not deny them the delight of this show just because of this.
A WOW factor of 10!