MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW: ALADDIN
Pictured: Adam Jacobs
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
25 NOV 2013
TORONTO - I don't have kids -- but I do have a pretty good memory. Good enough, in fact, to remember how wary I was, as a child, of grown-ups who came on too strong. Back then, kids -- at least kids like me, of which there were (and still are) many, I suspect -- wanted to be led to a good time and drawn into it, not dragged to its edge and simply tossed in.
And the good folks at Disney waste precious little time dragging anyone anywhere when it comes to their new Broadway-bound family edition of ALADDIN, currently playing the Ed Mirvish Theatre.
Instead, we're simply tossed into the fray as director Casey Nicholaw and his production team whip up a maelstrom of sound and furious colour, signifying -- well, not much, as near as I can figure.
There is a story of sorts, of course, as Chad Beguelin tries to nurture a meaningful love story in the brief intervals between a cascade of songs, composed by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin himself -- most familiar from the animated movie that inspired it all, with an additional tune or two thrown in for good measure. But there's precious little room for the delicate love story at Aladdin's heart to blossom -- the romance between the street-smart titular hero (Adam Jacobs) and the Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) is constantly pushed aside by the meta hijinx of the three other members of Aladdin's boy band (Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz and Brandon O'Neill) or the machinations of the villainous vizier, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) and his pint-sized sidekick Iago (Don Darryl Rivera). Not to mention James Monroe Iglehart's over-the-top Genie, popping out of his lamp with enough voltage to light the Great White Way, stealing every single scene he is in. In a bottle, this Genie would be labelled over-proof.
And if that's not enough distraction, Nicholaw injects plenty of his own choreography (more memorable for enthusiasm than inventiveness) into the melee, whipping things into even more of a visual frenzy with Gregg Barnes' vividly bejewelled costumes and Bob Crowley's equally lurid sets.
In short, it's a visual assault that doesn't so much draw one in as simply sweep one up in an overly long first act that washes one up on the shores of intermission, gasping for air.
Things improve, for a time, in a much briefer second act, as Nicholaw offers up a magical carpet ride, pulling out all the theatrical stops but muting the emotional ones, for A Whole New World providing the highlight of a production that tries mightily to be magical but never really pulls a rabbit out of a hat. With the exception of Iglehart's gigantically genial Genie, there is no character in which an audience can make an emotional investment -- no quiet moment that might allow any of the characters, good or evil, to exist in three dimensions. And while that approach may work in an animated feature, when it comes to live-on-stage, it's simply not enough to be merely animated.