By Barry Reszel
Glitz, glimmer and a kaleidoscopic explosion of primary color, secondary to nothing ever before experienced, literally burst onto the stage during Broadway in Chicago’s six-month (at least) Cadillac Palace (how appropriate) resident, resplendent production.
This is Hamilton for families; Aladdin, welcome to Chicago.
Truly no accolade is strong enough to express this reviewer’s adulation for the flawless stage work that makes Disney’s Aladdin a top-10 lifetime theatrical experience. It lost the 2014 Best Musical Tony Award to Gentleman’s Guide? Well La La Land me that.
This is a piece of glorious musical theatre in every phase of its production and one that should have patrons planning their summer vacations around dates when they might secure tickets.
First, because Aladdin is the musical that delivers a stunning initial visual blast—akin to The Lion King opening—then continues to not merely sustain the excitement it creates, but constantly adds surprise over the next two and a half hours. It’s nearly impossible to count the number of ornate, flying set pieces (and one awesome magic carpet) nestling perfectly in place; fully appreciate the elaborate, changing tapestries of the projected backdrops and enormous sets; or hide astonishment at the myriad, intricate, jaw-dropping costumes on this massive professional cast. So initial kudos go to the folks who make these things happen but don’t often receive mention in reviews. They include Bob Crowley, Gregg Barnes, Natasha Katz, Josh Marquette, Milagros Medina-Cerdeira, Jim Steinmeyer and Michael McGoff.
Second, Aladdin‘s book, music, lyrics and orchestrations are truly impeccable. Yes, it’s adapted from 1992’s Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin and includes three songs written for the film by Ashman but not used and four new songs written by Menken and Beguelin. Beguelin’s book advancing the attributes of trust, loyalty and love follows the story of a poor, young street rat (Aladdin) discovering a genie in a lamp. The strange circumstance leads him to deal with the complexities of having three wishes while staying true to his moral compass and pursuing the princess he loves and simultaneously thwarting the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier (Jafar). A full plot summary and highlighted minor difference between the film and stage production may be read here.
Added keys to the entertaining book are its inclusion of high adventure, whimsical magic, sight gags, double entendres, protagonists to love and laugh with, a feared villain with an uproarious sidekick and loyal friendships wrapped in a tender love story with its requisite happy ending. Keeping it moving at perfect pace is Menken’s angelic score punctuated with poignant and story-advancing lyrics, expertly arranged and performed. Music and sound kudos to Michael Kosarin, Ken Travis, Howard Jones, Glen Kelly, Brent-Alan Huffman, Tim Burke and members of the Aladdin Orchestra and Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208.
Finally, Chicago’s Aladdin is praiseworthy because Directer/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw is a genie-us, and his cast of triple threats is truly second to none. This first national tour cast of 35 executes Nicholaw’s fancifully complex (with tap) choreography to perfection and sings the daylights out of all cast numbers like “Arabian Nights,” “One Jump Ahead,” “Prince Ali” and more. Leads Adam Jacobs as Aladdin (he originated the role on Broadway) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine) are youthful, gorgeous and lithe. His “Proud of Your Boy” should be a pop single and their “A Whole New World” is a tear-jerking stunner. Chicagoan Jonathan Weir (Jafar) is as appropriately evil as Reggie DeLeon (Iago) is hilarious.
Deserving a paragraph of his very own, Anthony Murphy is hysterical and bombastic in perhaps the best comic role written for the stage, Genie. The again, in true Robin Williams homage form, it’s rather difficult to discern where Murphy’s script ends and his ad libbing begins. On opening night, the closing of his showstopping “Friend Like Me” was met with a well-deserved, spontaneous, thunderous standing ovation. Take that as it’s intended.
And give it up for these cast members: JC Montgomery (Sultan), Zachary Bencal (Babkak), Philippe Arroyo (Omar), Mike Longo (Kassim), Korie Lee Blossey (Standby Genie and Sultan), Ellis C. Dawson III (Standby Genie and Babkak), Adam Stevenson (Standby Jafar and Sultan), Mary Antonini, Michael Bullard, Michael Callahan, Bobby Daye, Lissa deGuzman, Matthew deGuzman, Olivia Donalson, Michael Everett, Karlee Ferreira, Michael Graceffa, Clinton Greenspan, Adrienne Howard, Albert Jennings, Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua, Jason Scott MacDonald, Angelina Mullins, Celina Nightengale, Kameron Richardson, Jaz Sealey, Charles South, Manny Stark, Annie Wallace and Michelle West.
It’s important for patrons to remember that high-caliber, spectacular productions like this one happen only because the talents and hard work of so many combine to create theatrical magic.
While this review emboldens the names of just a few who bring Aladdin to the Palace, be certain that this Cadillac of a show will bring absolute joy to every patron of any theatre-ready age.
Do you trust me?
Broadway in Chicago presents Disney’s “Aladdin” through September 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.