What could the musical version of Disney’s “Aladdin” possibly be except a gaudy expansion of the animated movie it’s based on? The touring production of the 2014 hit, now at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, is an extravagant eyeful — epic scenery, glittery costumes, flying carpet, the whole nine yards — and that seems to be its basic function. If you have an itch for a big-ticket Broadway experience, this will scratch it.
You can binge on “Aladdin” just now if you like, as the live-action movie is still on local screens. At 2½ hours, the stage version is a full night out, and it comes at you in waves of neon color and armies of dancers twisting and leaping through Disney’s weirdly joshing fantasyland.
The craft is sure-handed, as you would expect from director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who has four high-spirited shows on Broadway (with “Book of Mormon,” “Mean Girls” and “The Prom”). The extra effort starts with the music: Alan Menken’s score, with tunes you know such as “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me,” actually begins with an overture played by a sassy-sounding orchestra of 18. Throughout the evening, the songs come through more cleanly than is often the case with splashy musicals in the Opera House, even if the cymbals get too much of a workout as Menken’s sentimental ballads crest.
Bob Crowley’s ornate sets include something like a solid gold cave, where Aladdin grabs the magic lamp that yields the genie, and Gregg Barnes’s elegant costumes feature candy-colored silks and beads upon beads, each one seemingly caught by Natasha Katz’s lights. It’s a super-pretty show, but it’s filtered through a lens that inevitably views everything as Big Gulp-sized entertainment. The design skill seems way out of balance with the cartoon-thin story it supports: the fight against the power-grabbing villain Jafar, Princess Jasmine’s quest for self-determination and likable Aladdin’s lightly heroic role.
Kaenaonalani Kekoa brings a winning, distinctive drive to Jasmine — no easy feat, working within the template of Disney heroines — and the charismatic Major Attaway has an easygoing touch as the wisecracking genie. Clinton Greenspan is a nimble nice guy as the street thief Aladdin, and the actors playing the rest of the denizens of the fictional Agrabah hit their villainous or comic marks. It’s a substantially diverse cast, though the near-impossibility of getting the culturally fraught Disney-land Agrabah “right” means there is probably no such thing as an “unproblematic” “Aladdin.”
The show spares nothing on its relentless Hollywood/Vegas tendencies, which are impressively executed but can wear you out; the glitzy “Friend Like Me” practically breaks into “A Chorus Line” with fireworks. (Meanwhile, a more understated musical comedy set in a recognizable Middle East continues next door in the Eisenhower Theater with “The Band’s Visit.”)
Magic flickers briefly with “A Whole New World,” as Aladdin and Jasmine lift off on a carpet flying against a moon-filled sky. But as the number swells, the stars and comets start dancing like chaser lights on a casino sign.
Of course Disney will fold “Aladdin” into as many shapes as it can profitably manage for as long as it can, and of course the Broadway version will burst trying to provide you with a spectacular time. That’s the numbing bottom line of recycled culture. It’s a showbiz world.
Disney’s Aladdin, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, book by Chad Beguelin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Music supervision, Michael Kosarin; sound design, Ken Travis; illusion design, Jim Steinmeyer. About 2½ hours. Through Sept. 7 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. $39-$179. 202-467-4600 or kennedy-center.org.