NEW YORK – The new musical comedy from Disney Theatricals, “Aladdin,” was derived from one of the exotic romantic folk stories of The Arabian Nights, which have been popular for eons on bookshelves as well as on stages, in films, on television and now on portable devices.
Even though its stories can verge on mushy sentimentality, this new version of “Aladdin” dodges that anathema mainly because it’s based on Disney’s 1992 popular animated film, which had a sharp script and a melodious musical score by Alan Menkin and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin.
This new production, which is playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre on West 42nd Street, includes songs cut from the film and a zippy theatrical book by Mr. Beguelin that mixes silliness with a mocking sense of humor.
Mainly, this new “Aladdin” is F-U-N because it was so craftily assembled by the enlightened director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who has put together such diverse musical hits as “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “The Book of Mormon.” With Mr. Nicholaw in charge, “Aladdin” is never slowed down by the inanities of the plot, its bogus Orientalism or its fairy tale complications. “Aladdin” is a treat for the eye and the ear.
Of course, the show still stays close to the saga of Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) as a poor but handsome young man who comes into possession of a magic lamp that allows him to gain riches, power and the heart of a royal princess, Jasmine (Courtney Reed). In the end, he even wins the approval of her sultan-father, played by Clifton Davis.
The casting of Robin Williams’s voice to impersonate the genie lamp in the Disney animated film was a stroke of genius. Now, on stage, a talented actor, James Monroe Iglehart, plays the genie character with gusto. Like the show’s host, he ushers us through Aladdin’s travails. He emerges from his lamp and delivers a big Act One showstopper in the song “Friends Like Me” with Aladdin. Mr. Iglehart swaggers through the song in good voice and grand manner. Mr. Nicholaw raises the number’s temperature by bringing on the whole cast and large dancing ensemble dressed in appropriate Far Eastern attire by costume designer Gregg Barnes. They all contribute some marathon dancing expertise, topping it all off with some fierce non-Far-Eastern Broadway tap.
Most of the dances Mr. Nicholaw has created for the show are spry, nimble and often Arabian, near-Arabian or pseudo Arabian numbers. He designed them to fit the tunes and the otherworldy tone of the show.
Mr. Jacobs’s Aladdin looks like the youthful guy who could win the gold and the girl, and he glows when he finally meets Jasmine. Ms. Reed is a pretty sultan’s daughter and her voice has considerable range, which allows her to hit Mr. Ashman’s top notes. The duo of Aladdin and Jasmine is best in their Act Two showstopper, “A Whole New World,” during which they float on a magic carpet and go high up in the air around the New Amsterdam’s stage. I don’t know how they do it – I saw no wires – but Disney whizzes make it a highlight of “Aladdin.”
There are other characters in Aladdin’s life, such as his three pals, Babkak (Brian Gonzales), Omar (Jonathan Schwartz) and Kassim (Brandon O’Neill), who are full of jokes and gags and will remind you of the fun the Marx Brothers used to cook up; that is, if you are old enough to remember the Marx Brothers movies.
And we can’t forget the nefarious Jafar (Jonathan Freeman). He was the evil voice in the film version and still, 22 years later, he is a dark character on stage. And now he even has an nasty, devilish wannabee assistant named Iago (Don Darryl Rivera).
Scenic designer Bob Crowley creates a beautiful, colorful Arabian world which is bathed in Natasha Katz’s lighting in hues of golds, reds, oranges and purples. All this is combined with Mr. Barnes’s feast of costumes that only a Disney production could afford.
“Aladdin” doesn’t have the brilliance of Disney’s “The Lion King,” their most successful Broadway venture, but it is the kind of show they used to call “family entertainment” that kids, middle-agers and oldsters would enjoy. I suspect that even Mr. Disney would approve and tip his hat to the performing folks on 42nd Street.
Critic Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.