Theater News

REVIEW ROUNDUP: Disney’s Aladdin Opens in Seattle

Brian Gonzales, James Monroe Iglehart,
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Adam Jacobs,
and Brandon O'Neill in Aladdin
(© Chris Bennion)
Brian Gonzales, James Monroe Iglehart,
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Adam Jacobs,
and Brandon O’Neill in Aladdin
(© Chris Bennion)

The new live stage musical version of Aladdin has officially opened at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Directed by Casey Nicholaw, the production will continue through July 31.

Aladdin, inspired by Arabian folktales and the famous One Thousand and One Nights, has a score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book and additional lyrics by Chad Begulin. It tells the story of a resourceful young man who dares to woo a princess with the help of an all-powerful Genie.

The company features Tony Award nominee Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the character of the evil royal vizier Jafar in the film, in the same role on stage, as well as Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Courtney Reed as Jasmine, James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie, Seán G. Griffin as the Sultan, and Don Darryl Rivera as Iago. In addition, the show restores a trio of characters originally conceived by the film’s creators: Omar, Babkak, and Kassim, played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Brian Gonzales, and Brandon O’Neill, respectively.

The production team includes set designer Anna Louizos, costume designer Gregg Barnes, lighting designer Natasha Katz, dance arranger Glen Kelly, and musical supervisor Michael Kosarin.

Seattle’s daily paper, The Seattle Times, the city weekly The Stranger, and the industry newspaper Variety have all published reviews.

Among the critics’ thoughts on the show are:

Seattle Times
World premiere Aladdin lands at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre
“At two-plus hours, this larger-scale and reworked live “Aladdin” is plumped up with memorable tunes from the movie (“A Whole New World”), songs cut from the film, solid new numbers, added characters and enough harem pants, turbans, bare-midriff dancers and fake Arabian swords to outfit several sand-and-sabers flicks.”

“…the current team [have given] street musician and reformed pickpocket Aladdin (the bland but hunky, vocally strong Adam Jacobs) a trio of wiseacre boy-band sidekicks/ narrators, whom we meet in the bouncy Menken-Ashman tune “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim.” They’re played by Brian Gonzales, Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Brandon O’Neill.”

Aladdin is at its best when it stops trying to duplicate animated action sequences and magic carpets (now a wobbly, stationary affair, on a lift) and centers on attractive backdrops, sardonic antics (groanworthy tabbouleh puns and all) and some romantic schmaltz. The most magical effects — the twinkly lighting schemes by Natasha Katz — are ingeniously low-tech.”

The Stranger
Reanimating Aladdin
“[Book writer Chad] Beguelin, director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), and actor James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis) strike an uneasy compromise in addressing the I’m-not-­Robin-Williams dilemma, imbuing Genie with a less Williamsesque, more ethnically black shtick, while attempting to retain much of the spirit of the original character. Nobody expects Williams to walk out onstage, and Iglehart’s game portrayal is a crowd pleaser.”

“A number of songs cut from the movie–songs presumably cut for a reason–have been reconstituted, but rather than moving the plot along, Beguelin is forced to make detours to accommodate them. The result is a show that too often jumps from song to song with little dialogue, feeling more like a musical revue than a book musical.”

“In the end, Aladdin suffers more from expectation than anything else–it just isn’t as good as the movie-musical it’s based on, and it doesn’t rise to Broadway standards. But scaled down to regional children’s theater and marketed to that circuit, Disney might just have another hit on its hands.”

Variety (subscription)
Disney’s Aladdin: The New Stage Musical
“In Casey Nicholaw’s staging at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, this new adaptation of the 1992 Disney film emphasizes patter and pratfalls over scenery and spectacle. When it sticks to its low-tech, high-camp playbook, it is very, very entertaining. When it loses its nerve, it also briefly loses its way. But by the end, the show reaches its intended destination.”

“James Monroe Iglehart plays Genie as a fast-talking funk machine, more gritty and grounded than [Robin] Williams’ shapeshifter but just as energetic. Not all Genie’s jokes hit their marks (some tossed-off references to Oprah and “American Idol” may not prove evergreen), but Iglehart’s soulful voice and hip-shaking shenanigans more than compensate.”

Disney’s Aladdin has few truly earnest moments — so few that they feel out of place; they deflate next to the buoyant hijinks bracketing them. Either the transitions between the two need to be massaged or the show needs to go all-in with broad comedy and leave the tearjerking for another day.”

For more information and tickets, click here.