Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The musical follows the story of Aladdin, a common thief (albeit one with a kind heart) who meets a princess who has disguised herself to see what the world outside the palace is like. Meanwhile, a pair of evil bad guys try to use Aladdin to retrieve a magic lamp. When Aladdin accidentally rubs the lamp himself, a genie grants him three wishes. The stage story generally follows the animated film version from 1992, with a few changes (Aladdin has three human buddies in place of his monkey pal; Jafar is less powerful in human form; and Iago, Jafar's sidekick, is a human here rather than a bird).
The score features the songs that appeared in the film, three songs cut from the film, and four new songs. All of them have music by Alan Menken and lyrics by either Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, or Chad Beguelin (who wrote the lyrics for the new songs). Two songs not featured in the film release, Aladdin's "Proud of Your Boy," with Ashman lyrics (cut from film), and Jasmine's "These Palace Walls," with Beguelin lyrics, are effective "want" songs showing the characters' motivations. "Friend Like Me" and "A Whole New World" are the best known numbers and don't disappoint, musically. There are several numbers for Aladdin's friends which are instantly forgettable, and some of the other new material feels likewise pedestrian. Menken has had many shows on Broadway recently, with some containing wonderful music (Sister Act, Newsies) and others being regrettable groaners (A Bronx Tale, Leap of Faith), and the Aladdin score falls somewhere in between.
The book for the stage version is also by Chad Beguelin. For the most part, it does its job adequately, but reverting back to having Aladdin's friends was unwise (at least with the amount of material given to them). It would have been a creative challenge to have Aladdin's monkey sidekick, but the show feels slow and padded when the focus is on his friends. Still, the base story contains apt humor (many one-linersmost of them good ones), romance, drama and adventure.
It seems like Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs half of the new musicals on Broadway these days, and much of his work is very good. Here, however, there are mixed results. Several of the large production numbers, notably "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali," are showstoppers. But other moments feel bland or ridiculously inorganic (the chase scenes and fight scenes are uber-cheesy). The dancing is great, but could use more variety. Brent-Alan Huffman leads a large and wonderful-sounding orchestra consisting of touring and local musicians.
As Aladdin, Clinton Greenspan displays pleasing vocals and is an endearing central figure. Michael James Scott hams it up superbly as the Genie, singing and dancing up a storm and getting many laughs along the way. Isabelle McCalla possesses a fine singing voice (stronger in the lower part of her range) and embodies the eager, inquisitive, and independent nature of the character. Strong support is provided by Jonathan Weir (Jafar), Jay Paranada (Iago), and Jerald Vincent (Sultan). The hard-working and talented ensemble deserves plenty of kudos as well.
Aladdin calls for a lot of spectacle in its design, and the Broadway version certainly delivers. The lovely and detailed costumes by Gregg Barnes, massive and varied sets by Bob Crowley, and multidimensional and atmospheric lighting by Natasha Katz (about as top notch a design team as they come) all employ beautiful color palettes in their work, which is really a treat for the eyes.
Most theatergoers are likely to adore Aladdin, and there's truthfully much to admire. It's just a shame that it couldn't be even better than it is, as the opportunities were available to make this among the elite Disney stage offerings. Still, the great cast, familiar songs, visually awesome designs, and song extravaganzas are strong assets.
Aladdin, through June 10, 2018, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets, call 800-294-1816. For more information on the tour, visit www.aladdinthemusical.com/tour/.