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Make way for the world’s most beloved street rat as this diamond in the rough brings high adventure to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. The show faces a tough crowd as it plays to a local audience that was most familiar with a live musical version of the 1992 Disney animated feature just a couple of miles north in the Hyperion Theatre at the Disneyland Resort. One can’t help but be critical of the Broadway performance that follows a favorite theme park show that performed for 13 years. But never fear, the Disney Theatrical production team makes this show it’s own. Take the humor, for example, the script is littered with playful puns over an exhausting list of pop culture references. This helps keep the show more timeless and not so reliant in changing outdated humor. It’s refreshing and very memorable once you know them.
The cast of characters is mostly what you would expect to know and love. Aladdin, played by Clinton Greenspan, slips in very well as the protagonist aiming to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The princess herself, played by Lissa deGuzman, maybe the role considered most deviated from any previous incarnation. It’s more like a person playing a character rather than being the character. This is most likely be due to the production’s vision rather than the performer. The character seems to purposely not want to meet the expectations of what a person of royalty would act. A free spirit if you will. But when it comes to her playing a joke, that seems to really push boundaries. Jafar, performed menacingly by Jonathan Weir, plays the antagonist in search of a magical lamp that summons a powerful genie to grant three wishes.
As for Genie, Major Attaway comes direct from Broadway with this tour company. He performs the role to the delight of audience laughter despite some distracting comedic timing. Some parallel characterizations unique to the Broadway musical involves the sidekicks to Aladdin and Jafar. Instead of the adorable monkey Abu as Aladdin’s partner in crime, we are treated to not one, not two, but three human partners in crime named Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. Oddly enough, also color coordinated with the RGB (red, green, and blue) color model. Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek awareness to Disney’s own trio of ducklings Huey, Dewey, and Louie? Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Jed Feder play each other and Aladdin off well with humor and insights. Jafar’s loyal minion Iago molts his parrot feathers to be a human follower of Jafar’s evil plot. Jay Paranada plays him with a ridiculously fun flair to match his ridiculously large pants.
Disney’s Aladdin utilizes a brilliant scope of colors, set design, dance choreography, and dazzling costumes that will keep the imagination alive. From the bright neon fabrics of Agrabah to the pristine whites of the royal palace, and, of course, the wash of golds inside the Cave of Wonders. Some may oppose the dramatic brights of the city, but the opening song number “Arabian Nights” divulges and sets up that this is not your typical fictional city. Amongst other lyrical changes to the theatrical version to set the show’s tone. The palace itself focuses on displaying a white, probably plain, cleanliness adorned with intricate wall panels. A contrast to life inside and outside the palace walls. The interior of the Cave of Wonders is adorned with an endless amount of gold. It’s literally everywhere from the rock walls, to the face of the cave, and eventually the ensemble costumes. As shiny and bright as everything is made to be, there is little to break up the monotony of the color scheme.
The Broadway musical brings back many classical music and song favorites from the collaboration of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. The new songs added to this production fits well enough and serves a purpose to push the story forward. “Proud of Your Boy” and “High Adventure” were restored after being cut from the original film and is a delightful welcome. However “Somebody’s Got Your Back” during a prison scene seems to slow down the show’s pace and is a bit of a head-scratcher. There is a melody in “These Palace Walls” that sounds awful recognizable from the song “Rhythm of the Tambourine” from the Disney live musical adaptation of “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Another disappoint was, oddly enough, “A Whole New World”. The delivery of the duet felt emotionless. The sensation of “awe” is attempted visually with the Aladdin and Jasmine on a character-less magic carpet ride against a blinking starfield backdrop. A subtle curtain ripples across the dark stage. Then the couple jump into a wave of shooting stars as the magic carpet hovers in front of the glowing moon that dissolves into the earth. A bazaar (pun intended) image.
Overall, this is a great time at the theatre with family, friends, or significant other. Nostalgia may take hold for those who have watched the movie or seen the Disneyland Resort show countless times. This is one Disney Theatrical Broadway show that should be seen before the end of its Costa Mesa run on March 23.