Regional Reviews: Boston
With a decidedly feminist bent, the book turns the Cinderella story on its head by giving us Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla), an assertive princess whose father the Sultan (Jerald Vincent), wants her to find a husband, and Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan, a charmer), a poverty-stricken street thief who steals her heart. They meet cute in the marketplace, but their courtship is cut short when they are apprehended by the palace guards. Jasmine reveals her true identity and goes to her father to secure Aladdin's release. Meanwhile, Jafar (Jonathan Weir), the evil royal vizier, and his murder-happy henchman Iago (Jay Paranada) take custody of Aladdin and dispatch him to the Cave of Wonders to retrieve a magical lamp containing an all-powerful genie in the hope that it will be their ticket to ascend to the royal throne ahead of Jasmine and her intended.
In spite of having been told not to touch anything other than the lamp in the splendid, gold-encrusted cavern, Aladdin gives in to temptation to snag a necklace for Jasmine, causing the cave to collapse and knocking him out. When he awakens and finds himself trapped, Aladdin rubs the lamp, summoning up Genie (Michael James Scott), who offers to grant the boy three wishes in one of the many terrific production numbers in the show. Scott is a force who could single-handedly elevate the electric wattage on the stage, but is joined by Aladdin and the ensemble as he puts on a display of the myriad wishes he is capable of conjuring ("Friend Like Me"). The showstopper includes snippets of songs from other Alan Menken and Howard Ashman shows, dynamic dancing, one of several quick costume changes, and makes for a great act one finale.
Although musicals adapted from cartoons are not my personal cup of tea, there is a distinct aura of playfulness afforded to the company by virtue of the genre. This is especially evident in the characters Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo) and Kassim (Jed Feder), Aladdin's trio of compadres who stand by him like the Four Musketeers. All three actors are triple threats with great comic chops who enliven every scene they're in. Weir is a masterful comic villain, the kind of guy who draws boos and hisses at the curtain call, and shares an Abbott & Costello-type chemistry with Paranada. The Sultan is reminiscent of many a sitcom dad who is good-hearted and somewhat clueless, but Vincent gives him a likable quality and conveys genuine affection for Jasmine.
There is a sweet and authentic connection between McCalla and Greenspan, who happen to be a couple off-stage. The high point (no pun intended) is the magic carpet ride they take against a backdrop of a black sky filled with glittering stars ("A Whole New World"), cementing the love between Jasmine and Aladdin. It's fun to watch their characters develop and learn what they need to do to fit together. Jasmine is more mature, an independent young woman who knows what she wants (and what she doesn't), while Aladdin is filled with youthful exuberance, a bit of a rascal who focuses on fulfilling his basic needs, even if it involves thievery. Once smitten with Jasmine, he shifts his sights to do whatever is necessary to win her over, and Greenspan takes us on that journey. Jasmine's changes are less drastic, but McCalla finds a way to show her lowering her guard, even as she maintains her strength and tenacity. She takes her place in a long line of formidable Disney female characters.
The North American tour features exquisite costumes designed by Gregg Barnes. Some fun facts about the 337 costumes used in the show are that they are custom made, by hand, and use 2,039 different fabrics and trims. One hundred and two costume changes take place in less than one minute; 52 costume changes take place in less than 30 seconds; and Jasmine's wedding dress weighs 12 pounds because of all the crystal beading. There are 84 special effects, including live pyrotechnics, in every show. Scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz, illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer, and sound designer Ken Travis collaborate to make Aladdin a visual and aural spectacle, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw must have a bit of the genie in him to make it all work, just like magic.
Aladdin, through August 5, 2018, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston MA. Part of the Lexus Broadway In Boston season. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster 866-870-2717, at the box office, or at www.BroadwayInBoston.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.aladdinthemusical.com/tour/.
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin, Book by Chad Beguelin; Based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and directed and produced by John Musker & Ron Clements; Music Director/Conductor, Brent-Alan Huffman; Dance Music Arrangements, Glen Kelly; Music Coordinator, Howard Jones; Original Fight Direction, J. Allen Suddeth; Production Stage Manager, Michael McGoff; Sound Design, Ken Travis; Hair Design, Josh Marquette; Makeup Design, Milagros Medina-Cerdeira; Illusion Design, Jim Steinmeyer; Costume Design, Gregg Barnes; Lighting Design, Natasha Katz; Scenic Design, Bob Crowley; Orchestrations, Danny Troob; Music Supervision, Incidental Music & Vocal Arrangements, Michael Kosarin; Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Cast (in order of appearance): Michael James Scott, Jonathan Weir, Jay Paranada, Clinton Greenspan, Isabelle McCalla, Jerald Vincent, Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, Jed Feder, Erik Hernandez, Bobby Daye, Albert Jennings, Charles McCall, Charles South, Many Antonini, Olivia Donalson, Annie Wallace, Lissa deGuzman; Ensemble: Gary Cooper, Cornelius Davis, Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua, Jason Scott MacDonald, Pierre Marais, Angelina Mullins, Celina Nightengale, Michelle West, Zach Williams; Spooky Voice/Voice of the Cave: Brandon O'Neill