After the success of their animated musicals The Little Mermaid and Beauty and The Beast, with award winning scores by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Disney released the Arabian Nights tale of Aladdin in 1992. Menken and Ashman actually began composing the score before working on Beauty but only three of those songs made it into the final film. After Ashman’s death lyricist Tim Rice added two more songs, including the Oscar winning “A Whole New World”. The ninety minute film contained only five songs. When Disney turned the animated film into a big, no expenses spared Broadway musical in 2014, some of the cut songs, as well as new songs with lyrics by book writer Chad Beguelin, found their way into the score of the 130 minute stage show. The result is currently on view at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre as the National Tour of Disney Aladdin stops by for a two and a half month visit. With so many contributors, it’s a mixed bag of delights and disappointments.
The show’s technical aspects provide most of the delights. Bob Crowley’s humongous lacy and glittery scenic design, especially the Cave of Wonders, provide plenty of eye candy. Gregg Barnes’s costumes are a rainbow-hued fashion show most times and Natasha Katz’s bright and colorful lighting makes everything look rosy and clean. The orchestra, under the baton of Brent-Alan Huffman, gives the score a big, brassy sound that reverberates from the first row in the orchestra to the last row of the balcony. The show’s biggest problem is Chad Beguelin’s juvenile book—it makes the characters even more cartoonish than in the animated film. He has written a lot of jokes but they are more of the groan variety than the laugh out loud type. He has give Aladdin a trio of friends who come across as the desert variety of The Three Stooges. He has turned the villain’s parrot sidekick into a really bad one-note gay joke. The four songs he contributed the lyrics for are unmemorable.
The cast is young and energetic and really make the most of every moment they get. Adam Jacobs makes a plucky and charming Aladdin who meets his match in the equally plucky Princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla). Michael James Scott displays plenty of spunk and oomph as The Genie but he often overworks the shtick. Jonathan Weir’s Jafar is a one-note villain with the gloating laugh to go along with it. Casey Nicholaw’s direction gives the show a forward momentum that the childish dialogue and antics often attempt to derail. His choreography is fairly rote although well executed by the large chorus. He throws everything but the kitchen sink into the big Act One production number, “Friend Like Me.” What he didn’t use then, like the streamer shooting cannons, he saved for Act Two’s “Prince Ali.” If you can go into the show with the enthusiasm and critical awareness of a hyper screaming nine year old, Disney Aladdin will suit you fine.
Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends March 31. www.hollywoodpantages.com