Translating a Disney animated feature into a Broadway stage musical seems that it would be a seamless task considering the fantasy, magic, the vibrant moral storytelling, and, of course, the catchy iconic tunes. For the most part, Disney Theatrical Productions delivers the goods with their musicals seeing as though the product is, in a way, pre-packaged. They have brought animated features to life and they burst at the seams with Disney magic — and it is no exception with Aladdin; a journey of warm celebratory colors, dance, music and ornate costumes from the fictional city of Agrabah that brings all the familiarity of the movie with Broadway flair.
Running at the Hollywood Pangates until March 31, Aladdin is a visual feast for the eyes that nicely packages a classic Disney feature that was enchanting when it first was released in 1992. It doesn’t quite achieve the fantastical wonder and excitement of the original animated classic, but as a Disney Broadway musical, it checks all the boxes for the razzle-dazzle of conventional theater.
In terms of story, Aladdin follows its feature counterpart to a tee, but in order to stretch the 90-minute runtime of the feature, the musical had to fill in the gaps with — you guessed it — more music from the high profile award-winning team of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the book. It follows the titular Aladdin, played by original Broadway cast member, Adam Jacobs. As a street rat living by his wits on the streets of Agrabah, Aladdin wishes for a better life while behind the palace walls, Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla, with role originator Courtney Reed playing her for a brief run) feels tied down and wants to break free from cultural tradition.
The two meet on the street, but Aladdin realizes that the two can’t become an item because she’s a princess and he’s just a street rat. Things shift when the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Jonathan Weir) uses Aladdin to get a magical lamp, it backfires and Aladdin ends up with the treasured item. Upon rubbing the lamp he unleashes the all-powerful Genie (played by original Broadway cast member Michael James Scott), who grants him three wishes. He uses this opportunity to win the heart of Jasmine, take down Jafar, and in true Disney fashion, learn a moral that teaches him that if he can be himself, his life would be much easier.
There are memorable tunes in the jazzy soundtrack that make a return to the musical including One Jump Ahead, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali. More original songs like Proud to Be Your Boy and A Million Miles Away occupy real estate in the musical to fulfill the Broadway runtime and although they are great additions to an already strong soundtrack, you won’t necessarily be singing them when you leave the theater. Because let’s face it, everyone is there to hear A Whole New World.
The Academy Award-winning song is the centerpiece of the production as the stage is transformed into a night sky gorgeously lit by the moon and stars with Aladdin and Jasmine flying on a “how did they do that?” magic carpet up down and all around the stage. As the two main characters, Jacobs and McCalla are fully realized in-the-flesh versions of the iconic Disney characters, pumping joy and delight into their roles. They light up the stage with their crystalline voices, but it is definitely Scott as the Genie that steals the show.
The staging and robust production number of Friend Like Me not only gives Scott a grand introduction as the Genie but injects a jolt of energy into the musical, giving it an electrifying personality and flash that Robin Williams brought in the screen version. Scott makes the role his own, making the audience yearn for him to come back on stage when he’s not there.
A musical like Aladdin is difficult to not make a musical vs. movie situation considering the two are like fraternal twins. Although they are separate mediums, the fact that the story is close to identical to the film version can, at times be a distraction. For instance, although it makes sense for a live stage musical, replacing the lovable animal characters from the movie with forgettable human characters, some of the magic and excitement is lost from the story. And even though you don’t mind all the new additions to the story, there are also moments when you’re just sitting in your seat waiting for your favorite song to come on or your favorite line to be uttered. It can feel like a big-budget stage show that you can see at Disneyland — which is not a bad thing at all. I, for one, am all for anything Disney but trying to convince Aladdin purists who watched the movie on VHS non-stop in their formative years to not compare the two is kind of impossible. Both are enjoyable in their own right, but the movie will always win.
Despite my allegiance to the animated feature, Aladdin the stage musical has an enthusiasm and joy that makes for quality family-friendly Broadway entertainment — and it might be a taste of what’s to come with Disney’s upcoming live-action version starring Will Smith. Like the movie, it has the ability to take you on a thrilling magic carpet ride and want a Genie of your own.