Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Poor and scrappy Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) has managed to make a living hustling and stealing on the streets of the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah accompanied by his friends Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo), and Kassim (Jed Feder). But Aladdin feels tired of his life on the streets and wishes for something more. Princess Jasmine (Lissa deGuzman) feels like a prisoner in the castle, where her father the Sultan (Jerald Vincent) reminds her that a law states she has to marry someone with royal blood. But the only potential suitors she meets are pompous and don't treat her like an equal. So, Jasmine flees the castle and sets out into the streets in disguise.
When Jasmine and Aladdin meet, they form a connection, even though Aladdin has no idea at first that she is the princess. The Sultan's evil adviser Jafar (Jonathan Weir), who is next in line to the throne, and his sidekick Iago (Jay Paranada) are up to no good and when they learn that Aladdin is the key to getting them into the Cave of Wonders, where Jafar believes he will obtain the power to take the throne, they trick Aladdin into helping them. However, inside the cave Aladdin discovers a magic lamp and releases a Genie (Michael James Scott), who grants him three wishes. Will the magic the Genie offers fulfill the dreams that Aladdin has been wishing to come true? Or, will Jafar and Iago stop Aladdin and Jasmine from finding their dreams?
All of the songs from the film score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, are used in the stage version and feature a number of rousing, comical tunes. There are also several new songs from Menken with Chad Beguelin's lyrics that are quite good, along with a few tunes that were added back in after being cut from the film with lyrics from Ashman, including the beautiful "Proud of Your Boy." Rice also supplied lyrics for a few of the film songs, including the Oscar-winning "A Whole New World." While Beguelin's book sticks fairly close to the main plot of the film script, which isn't exactly a bad thing, it also features modern references and corny jokes, and often panders and plays to the audience. That cutesy, over the top delivery makes it entertaining, but limits it from achieving the serious impact on the level of other more successful Disney stage productions, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
Fortunately, the winning cast and sublime creative elements go a long way in making up for the shortcomings of the script. Clinton Greenspan is spunky and charming, with a singing voice that soars, as Aladdin, and Lissa deGuzman is fetching and feisty as Jasmine, instilling the character with the perfect sense of a woman who can more than take care of herself. The two make for a winning couple. With an infectious stage presence, a manic line delivery, and oozing endless enthusiasm, Michael James Scott is a hoot and a crowd pleaser as the Genie.
Jonathan Weir infuses Jafar with a pure, but never too frightening, sense of evil, and Jay Paranada is playful as Iago, Jafar's dimwitted sidekick. Jerald Vincent brings grace, authority, and a big dose of fatherly love to the Sultan, while Philippe Arroyo, Zach Bencal, and Jed Feder are humorous and charming as Aladdin's friends Omar, Babkak, and Kassim, respectively.
Casey Nicholaw's direction keeps the pace fast, light and fun and his choreography is a mixture of many types of steps from other cultures, though it lacks some cohesiveness. Nicholaw's light directorial touch works well for this musical that doesn't take itself too seriously. Bob Crowley's imaginative set designs deliver gorgeous, colorful locales, including the gold-encrusted Cave of Wonders. Jim Steinmeyer's illusions and the special effects from Jeremy Chernick provide plenty of spectacle, including the superb magic carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine ride on that will most likely have you asking yourself during its two appearances and long after the curtain goes down, "how did they do that?" Gregg Barnes' costumes are opulent, immaculately detailed, and full of rich colors. Natasha Katz's lighting features warm oranges and cool, deep blues to paint a range of beautiful stage images, from hot and comic daytime scenes to cool and romantic nighttime moments.
While Aladdin may lack the moving emotional connection of some of Disney's other film to stage adaptations, it is a highly entertaining, big, bold and bright, family-friendly spectacle of imagination, romance and an abundance of laughs.
Aladdin, through February 17, 2019, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.aladdinthemusical.com/tour
Book by Chad Beguelin