The beloved Disney animated classic turned Broadway musical Aladdin has flown into San Francisco for the holiday season. Full of comedy, music, and pure Disney magic, Aladdin is sure to dazzle and entertain families despite looking closer at some of the musical’s missed opportunities.
Inspired by the Middle Eastern story, One Thousand and One Nights, and the 1992 Disney animated film, Aladdin is a mystical coming of age story of an orphan that makes his wildest dreams come true, with the help of a magic genie. Aladdin quickly learns that fame, fortune, and love don’t come easy, and sometimes staying true to yourself will find you true happiness, even without the lamp.
Many fans will notice differences from the film, some improvements and some not adding much to the story. My favorite inclusion was that of Aladdin’s partners in crime: Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. These three were much more than sidekicks, and added great comedic moments to this show. The song “High Adventure” when they storm the castle to save Aladdin from Jafar, left the whole audience in tears from laughter. Another great addition to the story was the inclusion of a cut song from the original film, “Proud of Your Boy,” when Aladdin reflects on his mother and future. This is one of my favorite songs from the musical and I was ecstatic to see its inclusion on stage as a main driver of the plot. An added bonus was hearing this song sung by the talented Adam Jacobs, who originated the role of Aladdin on Broadway. Another great addition to this cast is Anthony Murphy as Genie, who made the character his own from Robin William’s portrayal in the film. This Genie relies less on pop culture references, and more on the quick wit and enthusiastic energy radiating off of Murphy.
There were some changes I didn’t agree with. I understand cutting Abu the monkey and Rajah the tiger in order to put focus on other characters. Jasmine’s maidens and Aladdin’s friends substituted those roles that were originally filled by these non-speaking characters. However, Iago, the snarky parrot of the villain Jafar, was made human which only took away from an iconic character. While attempts with costuming and dialogue were made to strongly indicate Iago was a parrot (Jafar asked Iago to “stop parroting him” when repeating his conversation), one wonders why his character couldn’t have had stronger visual representation to signify him as a bird, like Zazu in The Lion King with a puppet. Jafar’s look was less than satisfying as well. While flamboyant, Jafar is still taken more seriously as a villain in the original story, while the stage version has him bumbling around and swallowed up in a large cape, with makeup that read more drag queen than royal adviser.
My other grievance with Disney’s Aladdin was the attempted expansion of Princess Jasmine’s character. It’s tricky as Jasmine is one of the only princesses in Disney cannon where she is not the main character of her film, even lacking her own song. While attempts are made to make Jasmine more complex in this adaptation, it really doesn’t do much to improve her character as it perpetuates her stereotypical princess archetype. Her new song, “These Palace Walls,” cemented Jasmine into the role of a lady in waiting, instead of possibly bringing out the curious and courageous princess we saw potential with in the animated film.
Disney’s Aladdin went though many rewrites on it’s journey to Broadway, some for the better and some worse. However, in the end, this musical captures a lot of what we love about this Disney classic. We fly with Aladdin and Jasmine to “A Whole New World” on the magic carpet, travel down into the Cave of Wonders to get the lamp, and tap along with the Genie in the showstopper “Friend Like Me.” As a critic, I found some triumphs along with major flaws that leave me conflicted about this show. But as a child of the 90s and a Disney fanatic, I was thoroughly entertained with the moments I did enjoy. It may not be perfect, but check out the newest party in Agrabah on tour throughout the country and playing around the world, if you love Disney as much as I do.
Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.