Saturday, April 5, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Aladdin

James Monroe Iglehart. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Aladdin is a Spectacle That Sparkles on Many Levels
By Lauren Yarger
Disney rubs its magic lamp and comes up with another satisfying makes another leap from film to stage with the Broadway musical Aladdin

Up front, I need to say this won’t be a real review, because I was hit with the flu the evening I was scheduled to see this and only made it until intermission before I really needed to head home. I was disappointed, because I was enjoying the show – and far more than I expected to.

"Aladdin" was a new animated film when my kids were little enough to be looking forward to the latest of that genre. It was fun, especially given the antics of Robin Williams who voiced the genie. The story was the usual Disney princess-meets-boy and the score (by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice), while pleasant, doesn’t stand out like its predecessors for Beauty and the Beast and The  Little Mermaid. 
Beauty and Lion King were Disney’s earliest and arguably, most successful attempts to turn film magic into stage gold. Lion King still packs them in on Broadway and Beauty is making tours. Mermaid sunk fast on stage and Tarzan got tossed out of the jungle in record time. Newsies was a big hit because there apparently are a lot of fans of the film and a lot of people who like to watch 20-something news "boys" tumble and flip without ceasing, but the score is totally forgettable and the book is weak.

So a stage version of Aladdin wasn’t high on my want-to-see list, but this larger-than-life, stunning visual production that sparkles on many levels really is a treat (at least I can attest to the first act being so….)
Adam Jacobs stars as the street rat who gets three wishes from the lamp genie (James Monroe Iglehart) and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed). The quite handsome youth has a dreamy voice to match his looks. Iglehart goes to town and has a lot of fun, quickly making his genie its own and putting to rest any comparisons to Williams (thought he is hard to understand sometimes). Reed looks like a, well, Disney princess, and is spunky (if very buxom in the cleavage-revealing costumes).

Taking the ordinary story and turning it into a "wow" production is Director Casey Nicholaw, who choreographs some show-stopping numbers (fight choreography is by J. Allen Suddeth) including many special effects (with technical supervision by Geoffrey Quart/Hudson Theatrical Associates David Benken) and illusions designed by Jim Steinmeyer. “A Friend Like Me” truly brought down the house with its never-ending supply of entertainment, tap dancing and energy.

Nicholaw, in a stroke of genius, casts Jonathan Freeman, who did the voice in the movie, as the evil Jafar, who plots against Princess Jasmine and Aladdin in hopes of securing the throne for himself.

The real stars of the show are the sets (designed by Bob Crowley and lighted by the always excellent Natasha Katz) and costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, enhanced by hair design by Josh Marquette and makeup design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira. They are stunning. A Persian carpet sets the mood as the main curtain. Peacocks in the proscenium and grapes in the beautifully restored New Amsetrdam Theatre’s plaster motifs blend naturally into the Arabian Nights setting. Intricate carving is incorporated into scenic design.

And those costumes! Each one is breathtaking, full of jewels and sparkling detail.

I also liked the book by Chad Beguelin, who also writes additional lyrics. The basic story is there, but is finessed for the stage. He wisely morphs an animal character, Iago – a wise-cracking parrot in the movie – into a comical sidekick human (played by Don Darryl Rivera) – a move the creators of Shrek the musical should have employed when bringing Donkey to the stage, for example. Even the hokey jokes work here.

Best of all, there were LOTS of little kids in the audience. Maybe when I’m fully recovered, I’ll head back to the New Amsterdam and catch the second act (during which the magic carpet ride takes place). If it’s anything like the first, Disney’s ability to make magic on stage again might have materialized out of the smoke.

Aladdin sparkles at the New Amsetrdam, 214 west 42nd St., NYC. http://aladdinthemusical.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Incantations
-- Fortune teller

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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