Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of The Fox on the Fairway
Still, most of the little girls in the audience seemed unperturbed, though far from giddy. They'd be able to tell their friends and grandparents of their big night at the theater the next day. But the young father of three girls, right in front of me, was clearly very impatient when intermission finally rolled around, 75 minutes into the show: barking at his own three princesses to get up from their seats, and out into the night. I couldn't blame him, it's a very tiresome show. Later, though, I was shocked (from his tone) to see that they all returned 15 minutes later with raspberry sorbets, for the next hour or so of what resembled low-power UHF-style, after-school-children's programming. It's like blowing a couple of hundred dollars to watch the original Disney cartoon, interspersed with long segments from a very colorful, nicely orchestrated and choreographed version of the 1970's TV show "Mr. Patches" with your kids (and a couple of thousand other families, in hard plastic seats) before trudging back to the car with 11,000 other tired, dispirited people. If it were a movie, this whole show, watered down with forgettable songs and jokes that only inspire antagonism, would strictly be "direct to disc."
"It's too long," my friend complained, more than once, as we watched and then filed out, and finally drove home. "It has to be long," I explained, more calmly than I would have thought possible, "or they can't justify a normal ticket price, to cover the whole orchestra and 20 or more singers and dancers, plus all those costumes."
"But the movie was only 85 minutes!" my friend insisted, in vain. Here, though, it's a bloated 125 minutes (plus intermission), with 35 minutes of new songs and jokes by Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), very few of which add anything of value to the characters or plot or entertainment-value.
The show doesn't even get off the ground till the end of the first hour, with the appearance of the Genie himself: the relentless, wheedling, always-milking-for-applause (and deserving of most of it) John Tartaglia. Robin de Jesus is very nice and thorough and precise as the street thief who finds the lamp, striking exactly the same vocal attitude as Scott Weinger in the film. And Samantha Massell dots every "I" and crosses every "T" as the proud princess who manages to be ultra-feisty, tempestuous, independent, magical and iconoclastic with-a-temper-to-boot, under the exhaustive and precise direction of Gary Griffin. And the choreography, by Alex Sanchez, is good and tight. But, with one exception, the new "songs" go absolutely nowhere. (The one exception being a Disney trademark "evil-lady" song, Call Me A Princess, intended here as a tongue-in-cheek number, and nicely put-over by Ms. Massell.)
Ken Page as the Sultan, Thom Sesma as Jafar and Curtis Holbrook as Iago, are all excellent in the supporting cast. Eddie Korbich, Jason Graae and Francis Jue, the three "Ritz Brothers" I mentioned earlier (actually Aladdin's street band friends) aim low in the humor department, and occasionally manage to hit their humble target. Along with Mr. Tartaglia, their frequent references to text-messaging and one mention of the Kardashians went over fairly big with the American Girl crowd. But that's only about a 10% success rate, based on audience reaction, for the total volume of new jokes by Mr. Beguelin.
"It's more of a Paul Blake show," one of the older gentlemen sitting nearby realized aloud, during the intermission. The recently retired Mr. Blake, often credited as "the man who saved the Muny," was known for his preference for his enjoyment of baggy-pants comedy during his years as executive producer. And it should be good enough for any property billed as the annual "children's show." But, instead, it's just a hapless house of mirth where you'll find Mr. Tartaglia and Aladdin's three stage-pals holed-up, mostly looking rather desperate, through Friday.
Based on the 1992 animated movie, which had music by Alan Mencken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and an original script by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Aladdin continues through July 13, 2012, at the Municipal Opera of St. Louis in Forest Park. For more information visit www.muny.org.
Camels provided by Double R Exotics in Burfordville, MO