THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER | 12:00 PM PST 1/13/2018
By DEBORAH WILKER
Disney has been in the Aladdin business for more than 25 years now, and to say they’ve perfected it doesn’t quite do it justice. The 2014 Broadway show based on the 1992 blockbuster animated film (starring the voice of Robin Williams as Genie) has been a smash in New York throughout its run, grossing $302 million to date and spawning five additional stage productions worldwide, including a first national tour that arrived at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood this week for a three-month engagement.
Of course not everything that Disney transfers from screen to stage or from animation to real life works seamlessly, but Aladdin on Broadway has been a unique triumph: glorious to look at, funny, topical — and definitely not just for kids. (A full-circle moment arrives next year when director Guy Ritchie’s live-action Aladdin, starring Will Smith, lands in multiplexes.)
Given all the brand-extending — toys, video sequels, theme park attractions and more — that went on in the decades prior to Broadway, it’s really kind of amazing that producers pulled off such a warm, witty show.
That they’ve cloned it so expertly for the road seems even more of a miracle.
Let’s start with the glitz and detail in the mind-blowing sets and costumes by Bob Crowley and Gregg Barnes, respectively. Seriously, mind blown. How producers are actually assembling, disassembling and transporting the gold-and-jewel-encrusted Cave of Wonders, which is the setting for Genie’s first-act, beyond-bedazzled show-stopper “Friend Like Me,” is a mystery.
Then again, this is a show that also flies actors through the air high above the stage on a magic carpet while they sing the indelible ballad “A Whole New World.” Who knows how, because there does not appear to be a single visible wire or any support keeping the thing afloat.
Of course asking the folks at Disney to explain it all is no help. Their answer: “I guess it’s just Disney magic.”
Along with every last sequin and illusion imported from the Broadway production also come several actors, including charming Adam Jacobs, who originated the title role in New York (playing the part for three years), and Courtney Reed, the show’s original Princess Jasmine, who wrapped her Broadway run just days ago.
The tour’s original Jasmine is Isabelle McCalla, who played the part this past week at the Pantages (including the Jan. 11 performance reviewed) and who is about to take over the role on Broadway for the next month before returning to the Pantages mid-February.
Also by way of New York, where he was the stand-by for Genie (and Down Under, where he originated the role in the 2016 Australian production), is Michael James Scott, whose caffeinated star turn spurred a mid-show standing ovation.
If it sounds like Disney always has a spare Genie and a princess or two in the wings, well, they do.
These adroitly cloned productions are indeed a science, but that’s not to say this particular tour is without heart. In fact, just the opposite. Jacobs, as the earnest urchin looking to make his mark on the world, shows none of the wear that can set in when an actor plays the same role for years. His Aladdin is all pluck and good vibes.
Scott’s speed-talking Genie, who gifts Aladdin his three wishes, redefines over-the-top. His delivery is probably a little too fast, but it’s so funny we won’t complain about the few things that sped by. We’ll just go back and see it again.
McCalla as Jasmine could have done with a bit less TV-contest vocalizing. But in a role that is not as well-written as the others, she still manages to shine. Though her defiant line — “What’s wrong with a woman running the kingdom?!” — is straight out of the headstrong Disney princess handbook, it nevertheless received a satisfying “oooh” from the opening night crowd.
Elsewhere during this swift two-hour extravaganza, there are sword-swallowers, back flips, amazing costume-changes and a colorful male kick-line. But director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten!) and his big energetic cast also insert weighty pop-culture references that honor other Disney musicals, plus Broadway classics Hello, Dolly!, West Side Story and the singular TV kitsch of Let’s Make a Deal, which casts a knowing insider glow.
This production also includes Los Angeles-specific gags for Genie (material is refreshed for each tour stop, pegged to the location) and a truly crisp ensemble, whose every step evokes the wonders of a mystical Arabian land. Amid all the old-school showbiz flash, somehow the story’s message — be yourself and be a true friend — is never lost. That’s a feat in itself. Taken all together, Aladdin is indeed shining, shimmering, splendid.
Venue: Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles
Cast: Adam Jacobs, Michael James Scott, Isabelle McCalla, Courtney Reed, Jonathan Weir,Reggie De Leon, JC Montgomery, Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, Mike Longo, Korie Lee Blossey, Ellis C. Dawson III, Adam Stevenson.
Director-choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Book & additional lyrics: Chad Beguelin, based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, directed and produced by Musker and Clements
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin
Set designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting designer: Natasha Katz
Costume designer: Gregg Barnes
Sound designer: Ken Travis
Illusion designer: Jim Steinmeyer
Orchestrations: Danny Troob
Music supervisor, incidental music & vocal arrangements: Michael Kosarin
Presented by Disney Theatrical Productions