Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

National Tour
Review by John Olson | Season Schedule

Also see John's reviews of Shakespeare in Love and Marry Me a Little

The Cast
Photo by Dean van Meer
The Disney Theatricals machine—in business for over 24 years now, since Beauty and the Beast opened on Broadway in 1994—is alive and well and continues to roll on. Its latest product, the first national tour of Disney's Aladdin, is proof again of why the Mouse has become one of the most successful commercial theatrical producers ever. They know how to deliver a good time for audiences of all ages and they never, ever (so far as I can tell) let their quality slip. While I have not seen the Broadway production, still running at New York's New Amsterdam Theatre after three years, it's hard to picture any better version of the show than this one, starring the original Aladdin, Adam Jacobs.

Jacobs, who according to reports won the chance to originate the title role on Broadway after attracting attention as Simba in the The Lion King tour that played the Cadillac Palace in the fall of 2010, shows no signs of fatigue in the role he's been playing for most of the last three and a half years. He sings, dances, jumps, and moves all over the stage with the energy of his teenage/young adult character. He is a true musical theater triple threat and most importantly, he stills seems to be having a great time performing this sometimes intentionally silly but always joyous show.

Jacobs is, along with some ensemble members, one of just a few tour cast members who have done the show on Broadway, and his professionalism and enthusiasm are matched by the newbies, many of whom come to the tour without prior Broadway or tour credits. Their Genie is Anthony Murphy, a performer with some Off-Broadway and regional credits who makes a strong impression in the role that won a Tony for James Monroe Inglehart. The villainous Jafar is Chicago-based Jonathan Weir, a highly versatile performer who brings his considerable classical and musical theater training to the role. Jafar's duplicitous sidekick Iago (the Gilbert Gottfried-voiced parrot in the animated movie) is Reggie DeLeon, who shows great comic chops that soften the effect of Weir's dark, evil Jafar. Isabelle McCalla a young veteran of regional musical theater is a lovely and feisty Princess Jasmine.

Also impressive are Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Mike Longo as Aladdin's buddies Babkak, Omar, and Kassim—roles originally conceived by lyricist Howard Ashman for the film but not included in the final cut. The three pals provide some effective, if intentionally juvenile, comedy that is most appealing to tween boys, and they sing two songs with lyrics by Ashman ("Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim" and "High Adventure") that were not in the film. Together with Aladdin's lovely "I want" song, "Proud of Your Boy," these reinstatements are a tribute to the late Ashman, whose untimely death in 1991 at age 40 was a great loss to musical theater. (The lyrics written by Tim Rice for the film as well as new songs by composer Alan Menken and bookwriter-lyricist Chad Beguelin are in the score as well).

Perhaps one of the reasons for Disney Theatricals' enormous success is their willingness to not repeat themselves, and to hire the best theater talents and let them do what they do best. For The Lion King, that was Julie Taymor and her gift for life-size puppetry that allow human actors to play animals on stage, creating a spectacle as well as a story. Mary Poppins, that tale of a magical London nanny, was created for the stage by three esteemed British artists—the director Richard Eyre, choreographer Matthew Bourne, and the fanciful designer Bob Crowley. Together they produced a special effects and dance extravaganza that played Broadway for six and one-half years and toured for over four years. For Aladdin, they hired director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, one of Broadway's most successful showmen (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten! and he's delivered a big song and dance musical comedy in the best classic sense. Spectacle is provided via the numerous and colorful costumes by Gregg Barnes, while Bob Crowley's sets are non-realistically fun, but except for the "Cave of Wonders" at the end of act two, not particularly surprising or elaborate. But no matter. The intention here, and they succeed thanks to the showmanship of Nicholaw and his enormously appealing cast, is simply to give a big, fun musical comedy in a very traditional sense.

Aladdin will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL, through September 10, 2017. For tickets or information, visit or call 800-775-2000. For more information on the tour, visit

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