Sing-along song titles, moving sets and a flying magic carpet – what more could you wish for?
“Aladdin” at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre ignited the stage with an energy-packed spectacle. Although not much of a departure from the original story, the production provided a captivating piece of surface entertainment, complete with soaring musical numbers and riveting choreography.
Perhaps the most significant deviation from Disney’s original 1992 film was the absence of animated animal sidekicks. Abu, the beloved, fez-donning monkey pet of Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) was replaced by his band of thieves, who had a charming musical number, “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim,” dedicated to their debaucherous friendship. Likewise, Jasmine’s (Isabelle McCalla) tiger protector, Rajah, was replaced by her own entourage of doting women.
The addition of new characters brought somewhat fresh rapport into an otherwise familiar tale. However, the predictable story allowed the audience to fully immerse themselves into the grandiose music-and-dance sequences, without trying too hard to follow the plot.
The true highlights of the production included a fight scene set to the jaunty tune of “High Adventure,” as well as the main characters’ rendition of “A Whole New World,” set against an ethereal backdrop.
The sets themselves added a breathtaking dimension to the musical. As Jasmine sets foot onto the carpet, the walls of her lavish chamber split apart, revealing an astral scene with changing colors, twinkling lights and delicate shooting stars on an inky background. Their journey becomes truly celestial as the bright blue moon projected in the corner morphs into a picture of the Earth from outer space.
Scenes taking place in the Sultan’s palace were framed by delicate, filigree, cut-out panels looming high while the marketplace scenes included beautiful sunset colors burnt into the walls of the buildings. The most mesmerizing set was the opulent, over-the-top interior of the talking cave of riches, from which Jafar (Jonathan Weir) instructs Aladdin to retrieve the coveted lamp.
In the chamber, Aladdin traipses through lavish piles of baubles underneath a ceiling dripping with golden, gilded icicles. However, even the magnificent set is upstaged by what happens next.
The Genie’s (Michael James Scott) entrance, indisputably the show-stealing moment and musical number, proved he had all the swagger of the original genie with ten times the number of diva moments. It seemed like a celebratory homage, rather than a reproduction of Robin Williams’ distinguished and unattainable portrayal of the character. The big-brass, blaring performance of “Friend Like Me” included a medley of nostalgic Disney ditties from Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid, a montage of game-show bits and of course, a short riff of Christina Aguilera’s iconic and titular hit song, “Genie in a Bottle.”
The ensemble came out in top-hat and cane getups that looked like Fred Astaire costumes put through a sequin machine. From the on-stage quick-changes to the unwavering energy of the performers, the fitting end to the first act provided an extended moment of exultance right before the curtains dropped.
Some of the musical’s cheesier gags and jokes, like Jafar’s quintessential evil laugh and a royal guard getting smacked over the head with a turkey prop, will appeal to younger spectators. However, for older viewers who can look past a bit of forced dialogue, “Aladdin,” brings to life all the dreamy, enchanting memories of a generation that grew up watching and rewatching the original Disney classic.
The emotional substance of the production is relatively shallow, truth be told, but it’s enough to just sit, reminiscence and be thoroughly entertained. With truly unbelievable sights and indescribable feelings, the land of Agrabah has never been so colorful.