By Bradley Rohlf
Disney Theatricals brings another one of its box-office smash, critically acclaimed properties to the stage with this adaptation of the 1992 animated film of the same name, “Aladdin.” This touring production is a fun spectacle that brings along familiar songs and characters, and industry leading technical and costuming feats.
We enter Agrabah, a middle-eastern place full of color and magic, at a generational tipping point. At hand is the tension between traditional patriarchal laws designed to keep the ruling class separate from the commoners, and progressive ideals that anyone can be or be with anyone they desire, regardless of class, gender, or access to a genie imprisoned in an enchanted lamp.
The princess Jasmine (Lissa deGuzman) must choose a royal husband, but none of the princes her father, the Sultan (Jerald Vincent), presents her with meet her criterion of someone willing to rule as an equal partner. The law states that Jasmine must marry a royal prince before inheriting the throne, and the Vizier, Jafar (Jonathan Weir, who grew up in Belleville and East St. Louis), sees this situation as an opportunity to usurp power.
Elsewhere, Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) is our street-rat hero. He and his entourage are the bane of the local constabulary, who are trying to protect small business owners from Al’s gang of impoverished homeless who steal food to live. In a twist of fate, he bumps into a disguised Jasmine, out of the palace to see how the other half lives. They meet-cute, and eventually the princess’ identity is revealed.
In Jafar’s quest for power, a spooky voice (Brandon O’Neill) informs him that he must retrieve a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders, but only the chosen Diamond in the Rough can enter the mystical cave. That diamond just happens to be our titular character. Aladdin is warned to touch nothing but the lamp when he enters, but temptation overcomes him, and the cave opening collapses.
Aladdin then discovers the power of the lamp and the Genie (Michael James Scott) locked inside. While the Genie can’t make anyone fall in love, he can turn Aladdin into a bona fide prince so he has an even shot at wooing Jasmine.
The entire cast is nothing short of what is expected from a Broadway tour. A skilled, precise ensemble supports the charismatic principals. Scott, as the Genie, also serves as narrator to the story and plays equally the role of tortured wish-granter and energetic emcee.
A Disney Theatricals production comes with a set of expectations. Spectacle and magic are the House of Mouse’s stock and trade, and at the top of the show, we are explicitly promised magic. While the entire staging is strong, there are no astounding surprises early on.
We have to wait until near the end of the first act for anything transformative, but when we arrive in the Cave of Wonders, it truly is wonderful. And the accompanying show-stopping number, “Friend Like Me,” is a delight and a show within itself. And later, the moment everyone was really waiting for, the magic carpet flies not merely up and down, but forward, back, and all around the stage.
The biggest frustration of expectation was the tone in which the show was presented compared to other Disney stage adaptations. Most of their properties are presented as straight-forward, fully bought-in stories. “Aladdin,” on the other hand deals heavily in audience-winking one-liners and breaking to confront meta-theatrical or storytelling structures. These elements are not inherently faults, and they do not make the show any less enjoyable on the whole.
However it is surprising to find the show structurally inconsistent with similar properties such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The show is a shouldn’t-miss for Disney fanatics, a case study for theatrical technicians, and a lot of fun for what it is.
“Disney’s Aladdin” is a national tour playing at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis from Nov. 7 to Nov. 25, with no performance on Thanksgiving, Nov. 22. For more information, visit The Fabulous Fox at www.fabulousfox.com and for tickets, visit www.MetroTix.com or call 314-534-1111.