Review: ‘Aladdin’ a splashy spectacle in hit Broadway musical’s first visit to San Diego
The Broadway musical “Aladdin” may trace its DNA to the Disney movie universe, but this show’s beating heart resides in a mystical desert city of rare fortunes, exotic entertainments and a staggering per-capita allotment of sequins.
Little place called Vegas.
Oh, sure, “Aladdin” — whose first national tour just dropped a giant glitter-bomb on the San Diego Civic Theatre stage — technically takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah.
But the production’s glitz and splash and sense of eager showmanship are all Sin City. Sans the sin, of course — this being a family-minded show that draws its story and songs from the 1992 animated Disney film, an icon of childhood for no doubt many of the grown-ups in the audience.
That glossy approach fits this ripe fantasy saga of love, magic and royal melodrama, and the musical’s self-consciously showbiz vibe is made comically explicit by the very first guy who takes the stage, and who serves as its de facto emcee.
The same guy who, a bit later, just about walks off with the show.
If you were to make one of those website “word clouds” about what looms large in “Aladdin,” it might look something like: jasmine, aladdin, jafar, lamp, GENIE GENIE GENIE.
And when Major Attaway, who plays that wisecracking character, gets unbottled just in time to join Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) on “Friend Like Me,” you can feel the show start to levitate as if it’s on, I don’t know, some kind of magic rug or something.
It’s a scenery-devouring role, to be sure, and it won James Monroe Iglehart a Tony Award in the Broadway production. But Attaway (great name for an irrepressibly kinetic actor) takes the part and runs with it. (And runs. And runs.)
Casey Nicholaw — the San Diego-bred Broadway maestro who directed and choreographed the show — and his team are savvy to salt in pop-culture updates: When Aladdin asks Genie, “You’re from inside the lamp?” he responds with a cool, “No, I’m from Wakanda,” striking a “Black Panther” pose.
The show, as written by Chad Beguelin, has one too many “hummus” gags for my taste, and the songs (mostly taken from the movie) by go-to Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin are remarkably short on Middle Eastern textures.
But those tunes get solid, occasionally stirring renditions from the big cast, with the funny and versatile Greenspan joining the self-assured, sweet-voiced Lissa deGuzman as Princess Jasmine for appealing harmonies on their signature romantic number, the Grammy-winning “A Whole New World.” (Cue the magic carpet.)
Jonathan Weir is a paragon of comic villainy as Jafar, who with flunkie Iago (Jay Paranada) tries to stymie Jasmine and Aladdin’s union and take power; Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo and Jed Feder lend plenty of laughs as Al’s pals; and Jerald Vincent is a warm presence as Jasmine’s dad, the Sultan.
Bob Crowley’s sets are spectacular, particularly the gleaming golden cave in “Friend Like Me”; and Gregg Barnes (another San Diego-launched talent) matches with his sumptuous costumes. Nicholaw’s choreography injects zip into such effervescent ensemble numbers as “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim,” which seems an ode to the “gym dance” scene from “West Side Story.”
And the tunes get rich tones from music director/conductor Faith Seetoo’s 15-piece orchestra, with ear-pleasing horns on the likes of “Prince Ali.”
Big band, big sound. And big show — with enough energy to light up a few thousand lamps.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays (plus 1 p.m. Feb. 21); 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through March 3.
Where: Broadway/San Diego at the San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.
Tickets: About $33-$75
Phone: (619/858/760) 570-1100