Review: Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ tour brings a lavish spectacle to Sarasota’s Van Wezel
The national tour of Disney’s “Aladdin,” which opened at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Tuesday night, is the kind of big, colorful spectacle that audiences generally associate with Broadway musicals.
As staged by Casey Nicholaw, it is an explosion of familiar and new songs, energetic dance routines, imaginative costumes and vibrant, fabric-heavy scenic designs that all work to tell the love story of the poor Aladdin and Princess Jasmine of Agrabah. Their romance, however, is threatened by the evil manipulations of Jafar, the Sultan’s chief aide who has dreams of rising to greater power.
The story generally follows the 1992 animated film but with some significant changes that help to keep it grounded amid the swirls of activity. Jafar’s assistant, Iago, is now a human lackey rather than a parrot, and Aladdin has three buddies – Kassim, Babkak and Omar – instead of his faithful pet monkey, Abu.
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But the biggest and most welcome change is with the Genie played by Marcus M. Martin. There was no way a stage show could compete with the memory of Robin Williams, who used his voice to inspire the shape-shifting depiction of Genie seen in cartoon form.
Martin’s Genie is just as hip, sassy and comical, but with his own style, an echo of the late singer and bandleader Cab Calloway. He makes quite an entrance, emerging in a swirl of lights and smoke from a lamp and then introducing himself in “Friend Like Me,” a spirited, 10-minute number that keeps the ensemble constantly changing outfits and dancing to new styles that fit different wishes he could grant. Martin barely has a moment to breathe, but he never drops a bit of his exciting energy. He later leads an impressive parade to “Prince Ali,” as Aladdin tries a new approach to wooing Jasmine.
Both are songs from the original film by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The musical score has been embellished with new numbers by Menken and scriptwriter and lyricist Chad Beguelin that give more heart and emotional depth to Aladdin and Jasmine and provide Nicholaw with fresh material to make sure his cast gets a thorough dance workout.
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The tender “Proud of Your Boy,” cut from the film, helps you understand the man Aladdin wants to be. Jasmine's new song, “These Palace Walls,” more fully explains how trapped she feels in her privileged but heavily controlled world.
Adi Roy as Aladdin and Senzel Ahmady make a charming couple as they navigate a number of obstacles. They dream together early on in “A Million Miles Away,” and go on a truly magical carpet ride during “A Whole New World,” free-floating, twisting, and turning through the night sky.
Scenic designer Bob Crowley creates a cave filled with gold, and palatial rooms decked out in colorful fabrics (that beautifully match the costumes by Gregg Barnes) and transport you to an old world. Beguelin’s script, however, makes plenty of joking contemporary references. At one point, Genie pulls a Baby Yoda doll out of his pocket and makes a reference to Wakanda.
The cast also includes Anand Nagraj, who is the epitome of wickedness with a deep voice and sinister laugh as Jafar. Aaron Choi is a fine foil as Iago, who is reminiscent of LeFou in “Beauty and the Beast.” Ben Chavez as Omar, Colt Prattes as Kassim and Jake Letts as Babkak are a dynamic support network for Aladdin.
The orchestra, led by James Dodgson, occasionally overwhelmed some of the soloists during the show’s opening night in Sarasota. But the music most often matches the vibrant tone that Nicholaw sets with his breathtaking staging that creates a magical evening in the theater.
Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Chad Beguelin and Tim Rice, book by Chad Beguelin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Reviewed Jan. 24, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through Jan. 29. Tickets are $47-$122. 941-263-6799; vanwezel.org
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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Review: Disney musical hit ‘Aladdin’ makes colorful Sarasota debut