Touring ‘Aladdin’ is the catnip of screen-to-stage Disney musicals
By Bob Abelman
In much the same way tabbies are attracted to shiny things and rendered dopey by a hit of catnip, audiences will be drawn to and stupefied by the supersaturated stagecraft of Disney’s “Aladdin.”
The show, which is based on the hit 1992 animated film of the same name, is now on tour and performing at Playhouse Square.
Most folks probably know the story from the film, though it originated as a medieval Persian folk tale popularized in the 18th century by an English-language text titled “Arabian Nights.” Aladdin, a street urchin, finds a magic lamp containing a genie. He uses its powers to disguise himself as a wealthy prince to impress the Sultan, win his daughter, and avoid the clutches of the Sultan’s evil advisor.
On tour as it was on Broadway, Bob Crowley’s visually ravishing scenic design overwhelms the senses with its colorful swirling silks, shining sequins, layers and layers of scenery, and majestic backdrops dramatically lit by Natasha Katz. A stage filled with such riches serves to effectively distract from the Disneyfied fable’s formulaic plot, cookie-cutter characters and occasionally inspired but mostly forgettable score by Alan Menken.
The saccharine script is generously seasoned with Magic Kingdom self-references, topical mentions and groan-worthy puns to help keep adult heads in the game while their kids sit in a stunned state of hyperglycemia.
Circumventing the layers of fly-in scenery and set pieces is an abundant supply of Casey Nicholaw’s eye-candy choreography, performed in Gregg Barnes’ gorgeous midriff-baring and sparkle-coated costuming by a hard-bodied ensemble amidst streamers that come shooting off the stage. All this is wonderfully accompanied by a sizable touring orchestra enriched by plenty of local musicians, all under the direction of Brent-Alan Huffman.
Oh, and there’s a carpet that flies across a moonlit star-filled sky during “A Whole New World” that defies explanation.
In short, “Aladdin” is chock-full of Vegas aesthetics, Disney magic and big-budgeted theatrical slight-of-hand.
And audiences will purr with delight.
Patrons unimpressed by all the big-tent bedazzling will find solace in some truly fine performances led by a shamelessly hammy and thoroughly endearing Michael James Scott, who has successfully exorcised anything remotely Robin Williams from the role of Genie.
And as archetypical as the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine might be, Clinton Greenspan and Isabelle McCalla make them personable and, through tone and temperament, a little more dimensional and interesting than the script dictates. The same goes for Aladdin’s buddies, played wonderfully by Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo and Jed Feder, who nearly steal the show during the delightful if overproduced “Somebody’s Got Your Back.”
The dastardly Jafar and his sidekick Iago, played with delicious malevolence by Jonathan Weir and over-the-top comic flair by Jay Paranada, respectively, provide the play’s prerequisite conflict.
Everyone on and behind the stage work hard and are exceptionally eager to please.
Alas, there’s very little here to engage the mind or inspire the soul. But that is not the point of productions like this. The proof is in the purring.
Touring “Aladdin” at Playhouse Square
WHERE: KeyBank State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through May 27
TICKETS & INFO: $40-$170, call 216-241-6000 or visit playhousesquare.com
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 6, 2018.
Lead image: The cast of “Aladdin.” Photo / Deen van Meer