- OnStage Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic
Want to see a great "Bromance" where the lead actors have each others backs? Go see Aladdin now at The Pantages. The first time I experienced Aladdin was in 1992 with my young daughter as we watched Disney’s animated film and singing every word to each lyrical song by Howard Ashman (two time Oscar winner) and Time Rice (three-time Tony and Oscar winner). The music by Alan Mencken (Tony Award and eight-time Oscar winner) was so uplifting and engaging.
Disney brought the show to life at the Hyperion Theatre inside Disney’s California Adventure from 2003 to 2016. The musical was also performed onboard Disney Cruise Line ships. Since it was a Broadway-style show at these venues, I knew one day it would premier in New York and hopefully come to Los Angeles.
Director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, and Something Rotten!) and book writer Chad Beguelin opened Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim.
Sitting through the opening night performance in Los Angeles, I noticed this newer Broadway-musical has many of the same characters and songs, with a few new additions.
It’s hard to be the Genie, after the late comedic Robin Williams brought the lovable character to life in a schizophrenic whirlwind of humor and charm, yet actor Michael James Scott is bigger than life character onstage receiving adoration from the Los Angeles audience, especially in the golden "Friend Like Me" musical number.
Adam Jacobs is the perfect Aladdin. He opened the show as the title character on Broadway and we are lucky in Los Angeles to see this talented and charismatic Broadway star onstage.
Sitting through the opening night performance, I noticed this newer Broadway-musical has many of the same characters and songs, with a few new additions.
Not only do Aladdin and the Genie have chemistry together, but the show humanizes the animal characters, introducing three new and very entertaining friends of Aladdin - Babkak, Omar and Kassim, instead of Aladdin’s kleptomaniac monkey partner Abu.
The rich voice behind Jafar is actor Jonathan Weir. Instead of a wisecracking parrot sidekick, the evil villain has a hilarious human Iago played by Reggie De Leon. Jafar’s references to the beloved bird from the animation is in the line “Really Iago, must you parrot everything.“ Iago reminds me a lot of Gaston's sidekick, LeFou in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Jasmine played by Isabelle McCalla’s performance warms up when she takes a magic carpet ride with Jacobs. Who wouldn’t, he’s dreamy.
New songs in the show include Aladdin singing a moving number, “Proud of Your Boy” and the hilarious “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin and Kassim.” They come back after intermission with the showstopper “Somebody’s Got Your Back”.
Aladdin is designed by seven-time Tony-winning scenic designer Bob Crowley, and six-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz. Their sets are spectacular, especially with the emerald green interior of the cave where Aladdin and the Genie meet, turns into a brilliant golden oasis with a tap dancing, fist-pumping number with references to other successful Disney (Menken, Ashman and Rice) musical numbers. The applause was almost deafening as Michael James Scott became visibly moved by the audience adoration, thanking Los Angeles for their kindness.
There was some Disney magic during the breathtaking magic carpet scene with a black sky and shooting stars. As Aladdin and Jasmine soared above the stage, I wondered how they created this beautiful scene without a base or cable lines for the audience to see.
Two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes colorful array of Las Vegas-style “bling” outfits include belly dancing ladies in harem pants, shirtless sword swallowing men and a sparkling Genie Zoot Suit.
Another impressive scene was “Prince Ali” with choreography by Nicholaw, vocals, and music by music director Michael Kosarin, orchestration by Danny Troob and dance music arranged by Glen Kelly. Disney style streamers are shot into the audience and pyrotechnics create a grand scale introduction.
As a line in the show states, “It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts.” Inside the Pantages, they have another winning show that appeals to families (children under 8 might be scared during a couple scenes) and Aladdin fans of all ages.
Disney is currently working on Aladdin, the musical movie directed by Guy Ritchie. It’s scheduled to premiere in 2019.
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer