The story line is roughly the same as the movie, and doesn't take itself too seriously. A new addition are three friends of Aladdin (Babkak, Omar, and Kassim) who act as narrators, reprising "Arabian Nights" with various verses to advance the story. The lyrics are quite humourous even pointing out that they're going to use the split stage effect to keep the action flowing. One funny line that may play better when the show gets to Broadway was somthing like "they're tourists, they'll clap for anything". I didn't hear so much as a giggle. But then it's likely the majority of the audience were locals and not tourists, something I expect may be different in NYC. Adding these storytellers is an interesting technique and generally it works. What I'm not sure works though is the literal personification of Iago. He comes across more like LeFou from Beauty and the Beast than Jafar's evil sidekick with his own agenda. Likewise the three friends supplant the faithful sidekick Abu, and the magic carpet doesn't show up until needed for the all important flight of wooing (the Genie provides it as part of Aladdin's wish to become a prince). All understandable changes given the difficulty of turning animated objects into real elements on a stage.
|Aladdin in the market|
I was anxiously awaiting what they were going to do with the Cave of Wonders and sort of expected to be disappointed. Never underestimate Disney and production numbers. Wow! That scene worked on all levels. The outside was impressive, then as Aladdin entered the cave, and our viewpoint switched as well, the sets were staggered as they flew in from the sides giving the impression of moving deeper inside and everything started to shimmer gold. He gets trapped of course and rubs the lamp to read what's written on it and the Genie swirls up from the ground!
James Monroe Iglehart, the Genie, sounded a bit like Robin Williams at times when he reached the
|Genie in the Cave of Wonders|
|Jasmine in the market|
The second half peaked with "A Whole New World". Disney learned from Mary Poppins: The New Musical in regards to the creation of a night sky. The garden walls pulled back as Aladdin and Jasmine flew in front of a large moon and sky that twinkled and swirled in the background. Moving larger lights then appeared as actors, almost completely hidden in the dark, gave the sky depth and the carpet flew closer to the front of the stage.
|In the garden pre flight|
The "awww" is short lived though, as Jafar appears and drags Aladdin off for trespassing in the Princess's quarters. Jonathan Freeman as Jafar had the voice from the movie picture perfect. And why shouldn't it? He was the voice in the movie! I haven't seen the film in years and wouldn't have picked it out though. It was the cackle that triggered recognition.
|Sultan, Iago, Jafar |
The final dance number had the whole cast getting a chance to strut their stuff with a few Bollywood style dance moves thrown in to some snippets of "A Whole New World". The Genie appeared decked out in Hawaiian shirt and small suitcase ready to travel the world. Unfortunately he didn't say he was headed for Disney World :)
On the way out I overheard someone say the sets were good, the orchestra played the songs well (there were 18 players in the pit, a good size, and the three trumpets were great!), but they ruined the rest. I completely disagree. There may be room for improvement, some tweeking perhaps to a rather long battle of Babkak, Omar, and Kassim's with the palace guards in their attempt to rescue Aladdin. But it's accompanied by the good song "High Adventure" and some funny schtick. Besides, this is the purpose of out of town tryouts, to figure out the best show possible. I think it will only get better, but check it out and form your own opinion. It's in town until the beginning of January before heading to Broadway. May it have a long run and tour again, because it's worth going to see twice.
Photos from Mirvish.com unless otherwise indicated