Review: Aladdin The Musical

In 2003, an amazing stage show based on the 1992 animated classic opened at Disney's California Adventure park called Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular. Sadly, that show recently closed in 2016 and was replaced with a Frozen stage show. Now the only opportunity to see an official Disney stage production of Aladdin rests in the hands of the 2014 Broadway play, which I saw on tour tonight at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. This new musical production barely had a chance of winning my favor in my heart because I was already such a huge fan of the retired Disneyland version. My low expectations were barely met. I found the new musical to be inferior to the Disneyland show in every possible way.

I had a pleasant experience with the theater itself. It was my first time at the Pantages, even though I've lived in California for over seven years. The layout is very similar to Disney's El Capitan Theatre, where they screen the latest Disney movies. The theater staff was friendly, and it was easy to find our seats. In the lobby, they were selling a large variety of very nice but expensive souvenirs for the show. I purchased a doll of Princess Jasmine in her wedding costume from the end of the play. The doll was beautifully crafted and came in a clear box that had a design inspired by the sets they used for the walls of palace. The tag on the doll also had some lovely artwork on it. It was money well-spent.

Once we got inside to watch the show, things quickly went downhill. The plain red striped curtain was a huge downgrade from the stage at the Hyperion Theater in Disneyland, which was built to look like part of Agrabah, with tower windows that actors peaked out from on the sides of the stage and fancy Arabian patterns all over the curtain and set. Since this was a touring production, they couldn't build the stage around the show, so Disney opted for much simpler sets. The illusion of Agrabah was created mostly by belly dancers swirling voluminous chiffon drapes across the stage to disguise the lack background pieces. Many scenes used only a patterned screen as the backdrop, even the ones that took place in the palace. It looked as if they used up their entire budget on the interior of the Cave of Wonders, which was admittedly impressive, with piles of gold and other sparkly pieces filling every inch of the stage.

As for the story, it seemed less magical than the movie or the Disneyland version of the show. A problem that I've had with every Disney show I've seen on Broadway is that they need to lengthen their 90-minute movies by an extra hour, and they do this with lots of filler dialogue that never adds anything profound to the story. This show was no exception, which meant that many scenes were dragged out longer than necessary, making it hard to stay focused at times. The Disneyland version at the Hyperion Theater was actually shorter than the movie, giving it a brisk pace that never got dull. I had a feeling the length would be an issue with this production, and that feeling turned out to be spot-on.

The method that Disney used to lengthen this version of Aladdin was somewhat unique compared to the Broadway shows they've done in the past, however. Since the movie had gone through so many rewrites when it was in production, there were many characters and songs that got scrapped before the final cut. Instead of coming up with new characters and songs to add to the Broadway play, Disney recycled many of the ones from unused versions of the movie. Aladdin's three scheming friends, Babkak, Omar, and Kasim, who had been replaced with Abu in the movie, were added back into the Broadway show, and their deleted songs were restored. Unfortunately, they were far less interesting than Abu, and it's easy to see why didn't work out for the movie. Jasmine was given three ladies-in-waiting who seemed to only be there to serve as love interests for Aladdin's friends.

There were very few legitimately new songs since most of them were from various cuts of the movie. A fan favorite, "Proud of Your Boy," which was a treasured bonus feature from the 2005 Platinum Edition DVD release of Aladdin, was written back into the script along with the explanation that Aladdin's mother had only died two months before we see him in the play. "Call Me a Princess," Jasmine's deleted song from the movie, was originally going to be in the Broadway show in a scene where she attempts to scare off potential suitors by presenting herself as a vain spoiled princess, but the song got scrapped and replaced with the far less catchy "These Palace Walls." I hate to sound like a broken record, but the song they wrote for her in the Disneyland version called "To Be Free" was far more beautiful and memorable than this one, and it was performed to an instrumental track from the film's original score.

For a story about a powerful genie granting wishes, there was a highly disappointing lack of magic in the play. Genie's classic "Friend Like Me" number was filled with cheap party magician tricks, and Jafar's cool-looking snake staff was nothing more than a fancy cane. The Disneyland version of the show had an amazing sequence at the end portraying Jafar's transformation into a giant snake from the movie and another impressive sequence when he turned into a genie. The play had a few instant costume changes, but nothing nearly so elaborate. If I didn't know any better, I wouldn't have thought the genie had any magic at all and that he just went around doing favors for people. The fantasy aspect of Iago being smart enough as a parrot to have human conversations with Jafar was also nonexistent. He was not cut from the show, but they turned him into a short henchman who was nothing more than a carbon copy of Le Fou, which almost made me wish they could have just cut him out entirely.

After the show, I found my way to the stage door where I waited to greet the actors. Adam Jacobs, who played Aladdin, came out and signed autographs. He was very friendly and made sure that everyone had a good time. Later, I spoke to Courtney Reed, who I had first met at the Broadway Princess Party a couple of months ago. She was absolutely lovely, as usual, taking lots of time to make sure she was able to speak to every fan at length. She complimented me on my Jasmine tiara and shirt, and then she signed my doll. I was glad I got to see her in the play, as she is very talented. It's a shame that they took so many of the magical elements out of the story. I know it's possible to do a worthwhile adaptation because I have seen it done right at Disneyland. It's a real shame that Broadway was not able to carry on the legacy of Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular.


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