Review: Disney's Aladdin by touring company
by Brian Paul Scipione
It's no surprise that the Broadway version of Disney’s Aladdin is from the producer of The Lion King. The productions also share a lyricist in Tim Rice, but other than that they're are quite different. The Lion King has been a much greater success by a variety of metrics. It won five times as many Tony Awards and has netted more than double the profit. The Lion King is the third-longest-running Broadway show of all time and has been seen by an estimated 112 million people. Compare that to Aladdin’s 14 million. Both productions have been called saccharine and both walk the tightrope of trying to appeal simultaneously to adults and kids. Certainly, none of these yardsticks can determine once and for all which is the better show, as it’s not a matter of comparing apples to oranges but rather apples to apples. Having said all that, I found the current touring production of Aladdin to be a runaway smash. The story is relatable and succent; all the character choices make perfect sense. Most importantly it’s just really fun.
The story of Aladdin is very old and has been retold, animated, and filmed countless times throughout the world, most often in Europe, India, China, Japan, and the United States. It's one of the most popular folk tales from The One Thousand and One Nights, though it's interesting that there is no Arabic original of the stories. Added to the book by French translator Antoine Galland sometime between 1706 and 1721, it tells the story of a young man who uses the three wishes granted to him by a genie to woo a princess. While the original story is placed in "one of the cities of China," scholars tend to agree that the fictional city of Agrabah is really Baghdad. There are many other discrepancies between the original telling and the modern one (including Aladdin’s genie originating from a ring and not a lamp), but the story of a street urchin rising quickly through the ranks of society and politics remains the same. It has the same formula as what we now call the American dream. It's easy to contned that the vast majority of Disney’s output is composed of variations on this same theme. The difference here is that Aladdin’s rise is based more on whoever happens to have control of the genie, rather than on any intrinsic quality of the boy.
Aladdin and his friends portray themselves as Robin Hood types who steal from the rich and give to the poor—but they themselves are the poor. Aladdin sees himself as different than his friends in that he has vowed to abandon his criminal past and strive for something better in order to honor his mother’s spirit. Across the city, Princess Jasmine who's being forced by her father the Sultan to marry a prince before her rapidly approaching birthday. While traveling through the city incognito, she meets Aladdin and the two immediately fall for each other. Neither knows the the other’s true identity. Because of this chance encounter, Aladdin runs afoul of the law and becomes beholden to the evil Jafar who helps set him free in exchange for procuring a lamp from a magic cave. Shortly after this enters the fan-favorite character the genie.
Marcus M. Martin, as the genie, is larger than life in every way. It is always refreshing to see any performer reveling in a performance. Martin sings his heart out, wears it on his sleeve, breaks the fourth wall with hilarious aplomb, and leaves everything else out on the floor in a giddy pantomime very bit as epic as Robin William’s vocal work for the original movie (for good or for bad, no one taking on this role can escape comparison).
As for musicality, Senzel Ahmady (Princess Jasmine) with her dulcet yet powerful voice delivers one show-stopping performance after another. Her Jasmine is a feminist princess of the new Disney school, making it clear to the audience that she wears the pants as Aladdin bumbles along. The production’s music is essentially Indo-African jazz fusion which works brilliantly with Ahmady’s voice. She blends seamlessly with the music’s multilayered melodic structure and rousing choruses, never vamping, preening, or showboating. This is possible because her colorful range sweeps from operatic to bluesy. It's the polar opposite of Martin as the genie, who embraces showboating in the extreme as is appropriate for his character.
Another standout performance is Aaron Choi's Iago, portrayed as a parrot in the film. There's a clever nod to that when Jafar tells him not to "parrot me." Choi delights in his role and uses Dwelvan David’s Jafar as the perfect straight man. Choi’s rapid-fire style is an unlikely but fitting homage to the unique comedic stylings of Awkwafina.
Set and costumes of the opening act were on the tamer side, but once Aladdin enters the magic cave they burst into a glittering, multi-faceted, celebratory parade of colors and sparkles materials that seemed to evoke the starry skies of the desert night. In fact, every moment of the second act is a sheer delight. Songs are dedicated to outrageous dance routines, comic relief, ecstatic singing, and all the Middle Eastern cuisine puns one could ever wish for. Some people may come out to see the flying magic carpet stunt with its accompanying hit song, but the truth is this just one of many reasons to enjoy this production the next time it flies into town.
February 14 - February 19, 2023
2350 Robert Dedman Drive
Austin, TX, 78712
February 14 to 19, 2023
Tue – Fri 8 pm | Sat at 2 & 8 pm | Sun at 1 & 6:30 pm
Bass Concert Hall | 2350 Robert Dedman Drive | Austin, TX 78712
Tickets start at $45. Tickets are available at texasperformingarts.org and BroadwayinAustin.com, by phone at (512) 477-1444, or from the Texas Performing Arts ticket office at Bass Concert Hall. For groups of 10 or more, call (877) 275-3804 or email Austin.firstname.lastname@example.org
Disney Theatrical Productions, under the direction of Thomas Schumacher, and Texas Performing Arts have announced that tickets for the long-awaited engagement of Disney’s Aladdin will go on sale to the public on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.
Ticket buyers are reminded that TexasPerformingArts.org and BroadwayinAustin.com are the only official retail ticket outlets for all performances at Bass Concert Hall. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that Bass Concert Hall is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.