“Aladdin” opens on Broadway


“Aladdin” (Deen van Meer/AP Photo/Disney Theatrical Productions)

NEW YORK–”Animated” doesn’t begin to describe the frantic, screwball version of Disney’s “Aladdin” that opened Thursday night on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre, with a bushel of new songs and a Genie who works so hard you wouldn’t be stunned to find him continuing to grant wishes at the stage door.

James Monroe Iglehart is the embodiment here of the role Robin Williams voiced in the 1992 movie, and schtick for schtick and wisecrack for wisecrack, the performance very much keeps to the hyper-caffeinated pace Williams set. If Tonys were given in the category of energy output, they’d award Iglehart three. He is in fact–and no surprise here–the most enjoyable ingredient of director Casey Nicholaw’s production, which despite a lot of huffing and puffing and brandishing of scimitars exposes more of the material’s rough patches than it does any happier conceits.

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. (Cylla von Tiedemann/ AP Photo/ Disney Theatrical Productions)
James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. (Cylla von Tiedemann/ AP Photo/ Disney Theatrical Productions)

“Friend Like Me”–the song that introduces the Genie, in designer Gregg Barnes’s bejeweled blue sultan pants–legitimately brings the house down in an otherwise unremarkable first act that reveals a beaming Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and the high-minded girl of his dreams, Jasmine (Courtney Reed) as vapid and of middling charm. Iglehart, imbuing composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman’s “Friend Like Me” with an infectious big-band brio, gets off the evening’s one inspired riff, as he breaks into a medley of songs from other Disney musicals.  The poking fun at the  company’s theatrical franchise, stretching back to “Beauty and the Beast,” is a delightful antidote to the smarmy humor more characteristic of Chad Beguelin’s jokey book for the show.

Several new songs have been added for the stage, as well as a trio of Stooges-like buddies for Aladdin (played by Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz and Brandon O’Neill), which mostly serve to extend a 90-minute movie to a 2 1/2-hour musical. (Nicholaw’s choreography and Bob Crowley’s sets traffick in old Hollywood connotations). The movie’s animal characters, such as Iago, the avian sidekick to the evil Jafar that was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, are transformed into human characters here. Jonathan Freeman reprises his film role as the Captain Hook knockoff Jafar; the Iago of Don Darryl Rivera is shrill rather than funny.

The musical’s famous anthem, “A Whole New World,” is prettily sung by Jacobs and Reed as they float languidly across the stage on a magic carpet–a stage effect that by today’s imagineering standards feels like a mere kiddie ride. This version of “Aladdin” will doubtless keep your kiddies happy; for adults, one would like to press Iglehart in the cause of conjuring a desert kingdom of richer enchantments.

Aladdin, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Sets, Bob Crowley; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Natasha Katz; sound, Ken Travis. About 2 1/2 hours.  At New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St., New York. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or call 866-870-2717.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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