On Friday, July 21, I went and saw the Disney classic, Aladdin. Surprisingly, this show is new (opened on Broadway in 2014) despite many Disney show dating back to the early 2000s—The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc. Housed in the amazingly beautiful Prince Edward’s Theatre, Aladdin tells the story of star-crossed lovers, the “street rat” and the princess. There union together seems impossible, but all it takes is a big, blue genie to bring them together and teach Aladdin a few lessons about life. Being one of my favorite children’s movies growing up, I was very excited to see the full book musical. There were some keen differences, but that did not affect my experience with the show. Mostly, I found the show to be effective, but there were a couple of aspects that were not as effective for me.
One part of this show that was extremely effective was the spectacle. As soon as the first number, “Arabian Nights,” started, you knew this was a Disney produced show. The famous number, “Friend Like Me,” had everything—bright colors, tap, fireworks, movement, etc. My eyes were constantly moving across the stage and not focusing on one specific area because there was so much going on. The spectacle was effective because it gave the audience different options in how to perceive the show; it gave us the power to control our experience. Along with the spectacle, all the technical elements were effective. There were many costume changes in this show, mostly with ensemble members in “Prince Ali.” They extended beyond a shirtless man with haram pants on. They were hand embroidered and fit the characteristics of each of the characters. For example, Aladdin’s friends, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim, were all dressed similar to Aladdin, but they had three distinct colors tied to their costumes. They complemented Aladdin well when standing next to him; in fact, they reminded me a lot of the Power Puff Girls with their colors and purposes in the show. The lights were eccentric. Natasha Katz originally designed the lighting for the show, and I had no doubt that this six-time-Tony-winning lighting designer would fail. What colors do you think of when you think of an Arabian Night? Reds, yellows, purples? She read your mind. The lights for this show really helped capture the aesthetic of Agrabah and the mood of the show as a whole. (AGAIN, “Friend Like Me” blew me away). Finally, the last of the prevalent technical elements, the set, was amazing. It shifted depending on the location, but perhaps the most effective setting was during “A Whole New World.” It was very minute: small lights attached to a curtain, a flying carpet, and two technicians holding a dark fabric. Blackout, small spot on Aladdin and Jasmine flying, the set. Chills. The set was so simple that it didn’t take away from the vocals from the actors, but it was so powerful that it transported you on the magic carpet with the couple. I could talk a day and a half on the technical elements, but I’ll spare you this response. These were the main two aspects of the show that made it worthwhile to watch.
One aspect of the show, however, was not as effective for me as the behind-the-scenes efforts. The actors and characters of Aladdin and Jasmine did not impress me. In the actor’s defense, their characters are blander compared to the Genie, Jafar, and Aladdin’s friends (in fact, these characters “stole the show” for me). This show is clearly geared towards children, so their humor is more elementary compared to some of the other characters’. Regardless, I sensed a tiredness in the actors. I was sitting fourth row, so I could see a lot. It seemed like the actors playing Aladdin and Jasmine were not making the proper facial expressions that matched what they were saying. This is a big show with a lot of small patrons; the bigger the better in this case. The actress playing Jasmine was particularly dry to me considering how it seemed as if she was just running through her lines and putting no character in them at all. I never felt the “magic” of the show until supporting characters came on, which made me question the actor(s). This was not effective for me because it made my experience match the quality of the acting: mainstream. In fact, one time during the show I was so distracted by the dullness of Jasmine’s acting that I lost half of the lines she said in the scene.
It is hard to convert such a canonical film into a stage musical and hope for the same cathartic success, but I think Disney and its producers did an excellent job recreating this show. While I was unhappy with a couple of performances by the cast, the overall show was a wonderful experience. Aladdin and Jasmines’ character portrayal did not affect my view of the whole show. This entire show was effective because it brought the nostalgia of my childhood come to life and made me embrace the inner Disney-child tucked away.