Regional Reviews: Seattle
Disney's Aladdin Proves an Enjoyable if Bumpy Magic Carpet Ride at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Also see David's Interview with Alan Menken
Even if it is not intended for Broadway at this time, the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Disney's Aladdin is as Broadway prototype a production as they come. Reworked from the animated film favorite by Tony Award winning Broadway director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, Oscar winning composer Alan Menken, and book writer/co-lyricist Chad Beguelin, this version of the tale of the Arabian street urchin and his faithful genie hews to the late writer/lyricist Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's idea of doing the project a la a Hope and Crosby road picture. That conceit was abandoned in the film's long adaptation process, along with some great Ashman and Menken tunes. Those tunes are (happily) back, along with the film songs tailored by Tim Rice, and a few with Beguelin's lyrics. Unfortunately, Beguelin's book is just too hokey-jokey (abounding with quips that might have made even Bing and Bob say "Who wrote this?") and lacking in a strong sentimental core that one expects from a Disney project. And, title character or not, Aladdin kinda goes missing as the show is enveloped by the swingin' Genie, Aladdin's rat pack styled cronies, and the evil Jafar. That, not lack of entertainment value, is at the core of the show's present problems.
(center) Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed and Seán G. Griffin, center right
The Menken score, especially the tunes he wrote with Ashman and Rice, is a delight to the ear, and sometimes touches the heart. Adam Jacobs in the title role may be a bit too old, a hair too hunky, and a shade too bland overall, but he sings beautifully and most affectingly on the resurrected Ashman/Menken charmer "Proud of Your Boy," a fitting companion piece to such Ashman/Menken classics as "Part of Your World", "Somewhere That's Green," and "Beauty and the Beast." Ashman also penned lyrics for the feature number "Call Me A Princess" in which the show's heroine, Princess Jasmine (the spunky and sweet-voiced Courtney Reed), gets her only real chance to make an impression, posing as a spoiled temptress. Aladdin's street cronies inherit the tale's mood setting (but ultimately over-reprised) tune "Arabian Nights," and the trio are gregariously portrayed by the very talented Brian Gonzales (Babkak), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Omar) and Brandon O'Neill (Kassim), who join in with Jacobs for the swingin' Ashman/Menken "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim."
Direct from the soundtrack comes the voice of the film's wonderfully menacing villain Jafar, Jonathan Freeman with a fittingly restored duet sung with his (now human) henchman Iago (Seattle scene-stealer Don-Darryl Rivera at his diminutive best). And though song-less, another Seattle favorite, veteran actor Seán G. Griffin, is endearing and regal as the Sultan. Last but hardly least, as a character that owes as much or more to Ken Page in Ain't Misbehavin' as it does to Robin Williams' frenetic, hyperkinetic film creation, James Monroe Inglehart delivers 101% of everything the role of the Genie (and certainly his big "Friend Like Me" number) requires. However, he is put at a disadvantage by the rest of the show having become a trunk of (increasingly stale) jokes and winks at the audience. When Williams' Genie appears in the film the temperature of the comedy rises considerably, while not overwhelming the main story and principal character; in the show we've been hit in the face with too many pies already for the Genie to be a showstopper, though it must be added that Nicholaw's choreographic skills conspire with the music and the eager ensemble performers to make "Friend Like Me" a delight all the same.
Much other good work has gone into the production, from Anna Louizos' accomplished tapestry of visually stunning scenic designs to Natasha Katz's rather miraculous lighting design (her "A Whole New World" embraces the financial limitations of the production, and takes us on, and I mean this in the nicest way, the stage equivalent of a Disney park Fantasyland "dark ride") to Gregg Barnes' elaborate and colorful costumes, while the music, with Danny Troob's sharp orchestrations and Michael Kosarin's Musical Supervision, sounds glorious, especially since Ken Travis' sound design is way above what the 5th Avenue often achieves.
So, in the end, it's a good enough show, with a little more tweaking to become a solid staple in Disney's regional, community and school's catalogue. And if the House of Mouse does decide to gear it for the Great White Way in future, the have hopefully learned from their mistakes with the likes of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid just what it would take to to earn it a place there.
Disney's Aladdin runs through July 31 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue, downtown Seattle. For ticket information and more go to www.5thavenuetheatre.org.
- David Edward Hughes