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REVIEW: Stellar, Magnificent Aladdin Tour (Orpheum/Hennepin Theatre Trust)

The Genie (Anthony Murphy) gives Aladdin the friendship sell in “Friend Like Me” in the national tour of Aladdin. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine) gaze out at Agrabah.

There’s a song in Aladdin with a well-known lyric: “You never had a friend like me.” Well, you’ve never seen a show like this – the Broadway tour of Aladdin is magnificent, fantastic, and splendid in more ways than we can print. This expanded adaptation of the beloved animated Disney film is now a full-fledged stage musical in its own right, packed with enough music, story, action, and effects to dazzle you from start to finish.

The animated film Aladdin is now 25 years’ old; watching it has become an iconic part of children’s upbringings the world over. Just as those children have grown, so too have the on-stage characters – in the words of star Adam Jacobs, who plays the titular Aladdin, they’ve been “aged up”. This is not to say that young children won’t enjoy it – those in attendance were positively spellbound – but there’s a lot more for the adults, including many small but important additions to the dialogue that make it sit better with contemporary sensibilities. The character of Jasmine (excellently played by Isabelle McCalla) is notably smarter, more active, and assertive in ways that clearly sat very well with the audience, who often nodded their agreement to her soundbytes.

Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) singing “Proud of Your Boy”, a song originally written for the animated film and restored for the stage adaptation. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Something that you will definitely notice is that there are more songs in this stage show – a lot more. During the making of Aladdin, Alan Menken’s long-time partner and lyricist Howard Ashman passed away; Tim Rice stepped in to complete the remaining songs. The stage version features three excellent songs written for the 1992 film by Menken and Ashman but were left on the cutting room floor, plus four new songs written by Menken and librettist Chad Beguelin (best known for his work on the stage musical The Wedding Singer and Elf the Musical). They fit seamlessly into the whole and contribute to its deeper and more engaging characterizations. A quartet featuring Isabelle McCalla, Mary Antonini, Olivia Donalson, and Annie Wallace (“These Palace Walls”) was especially lovely.

Another notable addition consists of Aladdin’s buddies Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo), and Kassim (Mike Longo). Together with Aladdin, their quartet rounds out the story and brims with hilarious moments like the “High Adventure” number in the second act.

Aladdin is really a show to be experienced; descriptions do not do the “wow” factor justice. It is strongly propelled by the boundless energy and physical comedy of Anthony Murphy as the Genie, who pivots on a dime from generating laughs every minute to grabbing you by the feels, as the kids say these days. The star couple of Adam Jacobs as Aladdin and Isabelle McCalla as Jasmine packs all sorts of power to it, vocally and otherwise. Jonathan Weir’s understated, straight man delivery of the villainous Jafar is all the funnier against the magnificent backdrops, and his sweep of his robes (designed by Gregg Barnes) to cut someone off is a visually stunning and iconic gesture.

Jafar (Jonathan Weir) plans his next devious plot. Costume design by Greg Barnes; photo by Deen van Meer.

You’ll want to come back and see the show to catch more of the action happening in the big production numbers. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes many and varied (and often quite glittery), but many of the most exciting effects hide in plain sight – only to transform into something unexpected and delightful. The visual action gets ramped up to ten in the Cave of Wonders, where surprises of all sorts abound. Just when you think the tremendous Act One Finale can’t get any brighter, the energy amps up higher and higher, some new part of the stage transforms, and then a glittering tap dance number erupts. All of the dancing – and there is a lot of splendid dancing including more than a few awe moments – is accompanied by a full-voiced pit orchestra of two dozen players directed by Brent-Alan Huffman.

This isn’t the Aladdin of your childhood. It’s an Aladdin that’s grown up a bit, diversified, branched out, and really, really, really blows you away. There’s not a wasted moment or a boring one, from sensitive songs like “Proud of Your Boy” to “Somebody’s Got Your Back” to the big production numbers you love and hotly anticipate. It’s a dazzling night of theatre that you will remember.

Aladdin plays through October 8 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and a contributing writer for The Boston Music Intelligencer. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America‘s 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.

http://basilconsidine.org