Casey Nicholaw has proven more than once over his career that he knows how to create a truly show-stopping moment on stage (just think of “Show Off” from “The Drowsy Chaperone”), but the talented director-choreographer proves to be at the height of his game with Disney’s new musical “Aladdin” at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
True, this sure-to-be megahit, slickly adapted by Chad Beguelin from the hit 1992 animated film of the same name, has many pleasures to recommend it. But it’s two of Nicholaw’s inventive production numbers that will have audiences buzzing when they leave (and in one case, standing on its feet mid-show).
The first would be the jaw-dropping “A Friend Like Me,” towards the end of Act I. Led by the indefatigable and incredibly endearing James Monroe Iglehart as the smooth-talking Genie and the handsome, utterly likeable Adam Jacobs as the spunky, dirt-poor title character, this rendition of the delightful Alan Menken-Howard Ashman tune features everything from references to classic game shows and a spot-on imitation of Oprah Winfrey to a medley of other Disney movie musical songs and an homage to the tap-dancing of “42nd Street,” all dressed up to the nines by Gregg Barnes’ stupendous costumes and Bob Crowley’s extraordinarily elaborate “Cave of Wonders” set. Honestly, these few minute are worth the cost of your entire ticket.
The second, as might be expected, is Nicholaw’s breathtakingly beautiful treatment of the show’s Oscar-winning hit song “A Whole New World” (by Menken and Tim Rice) in which Aladdin – now disguised as the rich and powerful Prince Ali – courts the lovely and surprisingly spunky Princess Jasmine (a perfectly cast Courtney Reed) by taking her on a magic carpet ride. How he does it, without animation, is absolutely worth seeing.
Fortunately, there’s much else to enjoy in this ultra-colorful and highly entertaining show, whether you’re a kid, an adult, or somewhere in between. Beguelin’s pun-filled book has plenty to keep the grown-ups chuckling and will have the youngsters paying complete attention. The score, an amalgam of 12 Menken collaborations with Ashman, Rice, and Beguelin, is often hummable and never less than serviceable. Furthermore, it’s a true pleasure to hear Aladdin’s anthem, “Proud of Your Boy,” (a heartfelt ballad that was surprisingly cut from the film) strongly sung by Jacobs. (Ok, so it sounds like “Part of Your World.” So what?)
Among the standouts in the enormous supporting cast are the delicious Jonathan Freeman, who gives full life (and not just his voice) to the evil wazir Jafar, and Don Darryl Rivera, who makes a spectacular Broadway debut as his eager-to-please henchman Iago. (Nope, he’s not a parrot this time around – and Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu has also been eliminated. So if you want to see animals, head to “The Lion King”.) And it’s simply nice to see Clifton Davis back on Broadway, even if he has precious little to do as Jasmine’s father.
In a Broadway musical season that has so far been a bit disappointing, it’s a bonus to finally see a show that has as much magic as Aladdin. It may not be completely out of this world, but it will absolutely lift your spirits.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart, Jonathan Freeman, Brian Gonzales, Brandon O'Neill, Jonathan Schwartz, Clifton Davis, Don Darryl Rivera
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 2/26/2014
New Amsterdam Theatre
214 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036