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Review Roundup: ‘Aladdin’

Aladdin, Disney’s latest cartoon-to-stage transfer, opened at the New Amsterdam Theater on March 20. Based on the 1992 animated film, the show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon) and features a book by Chad Beguelin (Elf). The score with music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast), lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice (Evita), and Beguelin, includes songs from the film plus several new ones written especially for this production. Adam Jacobs (The Lion King) plays the title role, a clever street urchin who finds a magic lamp, with Courtney Reed (In the Heights) as Jasmine, the spunky princess he seeks to impress. James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis) plays the Genie, the role voiced by Robin Williams in the film and Jonathan Freeman (The Little Mermaid, She Loves Me) recreates his evil Jafar from the movie.

The critics were mostly positive with a few voicing reservations about Beguelin’s thin book and unexciting performances by Jacobs and Reed. Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post commented that the two lead characters were given three sidekicks each “maybe to compensate for their lack of personality.” But the press almost universally praised Iglehart’s tour-de-force turn as the Genie, particularly his energetic rendition of “Friend Like Me,” an extended number in which the comical wish-granter displays his powers along with the dazzling sets by Bob Crowley and splashy costumes by Gregg Barnes. Nicholaw’s savvy staging came in for kudos as well. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

 

Aladdin

The curtain call for ‘Aladdin,’ now playing on Broadway (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“As directed and choreographed (and choreographed, and choreographed) by Casey Nicholaw, and adapted by the book writer Chad Beguelin, Aladdin has an infectious and only mildly syrupy spirit. Not to mention enough baubles, bangles and beading to keep a whole season of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants in runway attire.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“The production’s best special effect isn’t the carpet, but the rollicking and endearingly over-the-top turn by James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis), who handles Robin Williams’ role as the genie. With nonstop joking, fist bumps, declarations of ‘Oh snap!’ and nimble dance moves and smooth vocals, Iglehart shines with enough charisma to light a thousand and one nights.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli New York Post
“Every time this genie’s on stage, it’s as if Aladdin were mainlining Red Bull. Iglehart works so hard during his big number, you fear for his health — that is, when you’re not laughing your head off.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“James Monroe Iglehart is just so magically delicious as the guy in the lamp that the show sometimes feels like its holding its breath until he reappears. That’s not a knock on this perfectly lovely adaptation of the 1992 movie that opened Thursday at the New Amsterdam Theatre with a score that’s already won an Oscar. It’s just that Iglehart is on a different planet.”

 Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Working from what looks like a million-plus budget, costumer Gregg Barnes (Kinky Boots) makes a dazzling first impression with vibrant colors and graceful silhouettes, and rich materials that are intricately embroidered and elaborately ornamented.  But in the spirit of overkill that comes to define the entire production, the costumes become so heavily encrusted with bling, it’s a wonder anyone can move in them.”

 Linda Winer, Newsday
“The carpet flies, kids, and it’s awesome….Such awesomeness, of course, is to be expected from Aladdin, Disney’s latest Broadway translation of a beloved animated fantasy. But what’s a whole new world, as the song promises, is the almost modest, down-to-earth human scale of director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s big, cheerful production — an enjoyable throwback to old-time musical comedy.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Directed and choreographed by musical comedy specialist Casey Nicholaw with loads of retro showmanship, an unapologetic embrace of casbah kitsch and a heavy accent on shtick, this is sweet, silly fun. It’s not the most sophisticated entertainment, but the target demographic won’t mind at all.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“The magic carpet carrying Adam Jacobs’ spry, endearing Aladdin and Courtney Reed’s charmingly no-nonsense Princess Jasmine remains dimly lit against a simple, starry backdrop; rather than having the couple fly out into the audience, Nicholaw keeps the emphasis on their tender chemistry and robust voices.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“Aside from the tonic of Iglehart’s djinn, however, Aladdin is short on magic. Director Casey Nicholaw fills the stage with activity, and Jonathan Freeman and Don Darryl Rivera offer ripe turns as a villainous vizier and his squawking sidekick. But the plotting drifts into weightless silliness, with a surfeit of generic padding and glitz.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“As in many a Disney stage production, the big showstopper isn’t even human: During ‘A Whole New World,’ a flying carpet carries our lovers aloft in a night-time ride, swooping and spinning with how’d-they-do-that wonder. (Jim Steinmeyer and Jeremy Chernick are credited with designing the onstage illusions and special effects.) It deserves its own curtain call.”

Steven Suskind, Huffington Post
“The musical at the New Amsterdam is not perfect; another Lion King this isn’t. Still, it provides three or four knockout moments.”

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