The engine for this rebirth was the breathtaking new musical Aladdin. The best Disney theatrical production since The Lion King, it makes up for all the lesser children’s shows that followed.
Many of you have undoubtedly seen the movie, but here is just a quick plot refresher to start: “street rat” Aladdin runs into princess Jasmine in the marketplace and falls in love. Evil wizard Jafar tricks him into going into a cave in search of a magic lamp, but he escapes with the help of the genie trapped inside. Said genie then helps Aladdin defeat Jafar and get the girl.
Every aspect of this show is just about perfect. The sets are lavish, the costumes are glittery and the choreography is energetic. The show features all the songs you love, along with a couple of great additions, like “Proud of Your Boy,” a new ballad for Aladdin, and “Diamond in the Rough,” a showcase for the villainous Jafar.
Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed do fine work as Aladdin and Jasmine; they are gifted actors and singers who dance with flair. With all due respect to them, however, the supporting characters steal the show.
Jonathan Freeman reprises the role of Jafar, which he voiced in the 1992 movie; he is the first Disney voice actor to also play his role on Broadway. Twenty-two years later in live action, he is still as imposing as ever. The undisputed MVP of the show, however, is James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. He emcees the big numbers, like “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali,” with unflagging energy and great comic timing.
Iglehart gets an individual chance to shine at the end of act one with the euphoric showstopper “Friend like Me.” He brings the Robin Williams song into the 21st century, adding more up-to-date cultural references and high-kicking dances. This number alone is worth the price of admission (which for Broadway is saying a lot).
I am so glad Disney found its footing again because its recent Broadway endeavors were quite underwhelming. Whether it was the sappy life lessons of Mary Poppins or the ceaseless choreography of Newsies, every Disney Broadway show in the past few years has had something that held it back from the true magic of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.
Much to my dismay, other shows aimed at the younger set followed this pattern of diminishing returns, even those from across the pond. For example, despite a clever book and a couple of memorable songs, Matilda left me completely unmoved. (And yes, I know I’m in the minority on this.)
Hopefully Aladdin reverses this trend for all theatre aimed at the young set; it certainly brings a lot of magic back to the Disney brand. Rush to the New Amsterdam Theatre now because, to paraphrase the genie, you ain’t never seen a show like this.