The fabled city of Agrabah has finally made its way to Washington.
Disney’s Broadway musical juggernaut “Aladdin” has swooped down on the Kennedy Center, where it’s parked at the Opera House through early September. With bright and breezy musical numbers, glittery costumes, two star-crossed lovers who are too cute for words and a Genie who likes to party, “Aladdin” presents the perfect family-friendly summertime escape.
And there’s no shortage of sparkle in this high-flying spectacle, directed and choreographed by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw, and featuring a book by Chad Beguelin. “Aladdin” is so over-the-top fun and flashy, you’ll (almost) forgive it for leaving Abu and Rajah behind.
In case you didn’t catch the beloved Robin Williams-starring animated movie or the recent live-action helmed by Guy Ritchie, the story follows the adventures of a young street urchin named Aladdin, who wants nothing more than to make his mama (who passed away) proud and win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The only issue is that he’s just a poor boy. However, Jafar, the sultan’s wicked adviser, sees him as something else: “a diamond in the rough,” who’s his key to acquiring a magical lamp locked away in a cave. Luckily, Aladdin taps into the treasure within before Jafar can, releasing a fun-loving Genie who has a penchant for showtunes.
The Broadway musical has all those songs—by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman—you hold dear from the animated movie, like “One Jump Ahead,” “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World,” but has been augmented with some tracks cut from the animated movie and some new ones from Menken and Beguelin.
The biggest showstopper of “Aladdin” is Genie’s “Friend Like Me,” which earned the Broadway production its only Tony (a featured actor win for James Monroe Iglehart). The 7-minute-plus crowd-pleaser pumps out an endless parade of musical styles and cheery and energetic dancers. Disney fans will delight in how the song sneaks in bits from other shows like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pocahontas” and “The Little Mermaid.” Is that “West Side Story” I hear?
With scenic designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz and illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer onboard, “Aladdin” is not only a musical extravaganza, but a visual one as well—from the vibrant “Arabian Nights” opening number to the gilded Cave of Wonders to Aladdin and Jasmine’s dreamy magic carpet ride through an endless diamond sky. This last one is truly a stunner, and sure to draw many gasps from audiences, as the palace walls retract to reveal a starry night complete with shooting stars and a gigantic moon (nice timing with the Apollo 50th anniversary!).
Clinton Greenspan and Kaena Kekoa—a very winsome-looking pair—are perfectly cast as the plucky “street rat” and the spirited princess, who refuses to be pinned down and yearns to see what lies beyond the kingdom. The musical’s added ballad “A Million Miles Away”—beautifully sung along with “A Whole New World”—showcases their sweet chemistry early on and helps deepen their connection.
As Genie, Major Attaway injects a lot of oomph and personality into his outsized character; he certainly knows how to command the stage. However, you kinda wish there was more Genie in the musical, and more bonding time between him and Aladdin.
Instead of going the puppet route, the musical drops Aladdin’s pal Abu and the princess’s pet tiger Rajah to give the lovebirds human companions. Aladdin’s trio of bumbling buddies (Babkak, Omar and Kassim) are hilariously portrayed by Zach Bencal, Ben Chavez and Colt Prattes, who do a great job of differentiating their characters; Jasmine’s attendants aren’t as defined. Babkak always has food on his mind, even in the most dire of circumstances, while Omar is the most sensitive one and Kassim, the tough guy who craves to be much more.
One animal that gets to keep his job is Jafar’s loudmouth parrot sidekick Iago, who appears as a human henchman in the musical. Reggie De Leon as Iago and Jonathan Weir as his power-hungry master make a great trouble-making team. Jafar is gleefully played by Weir, who comes across as a cartoon villain with his dark and heavy robes and snake staff, and overarched black eyebrows. (He has playing the baddie down pat, having played Scar in “The Lion King.”) However, Jafar’s comeuppance is where this show fails some with a finale that feels too rushed.
Audiences will certainly see variations across the animated film, the live-action remake and the musical. But there’s nothing like seeing this beloved Disney story play out in front of you, despite its flaws (be prepared for more than a few groan-worthy one-liners).
Big and blingy, “Aladdin” will delight audiences of all ages with its eye-popping extravagance and charming tale of love and friendship. And don’t worry, Abu, they haven’t forgotten you. The musical does give a sweet shoutout to Aladdin’s mischievous monkey friend.