Heaven knows we can use a tale about Arab culture that’s not about jihad and the oppression of women. And if that story has to come in the form of a frenetic and charming Disney cartoon (loosely based on the Arabian Nights) brought to kinetic, glorious life onstage, then so be it.
After a weekend of previews, “Disney’s Aladdin” held its press opening Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. The show is, in a word, spectacular. Colorful, boisterous and full of verve, the production by director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon”) is breathtaking. Literally.
Actor Anthony Murphy, the CeeLo Green-like performer who plays the Genie, playfully pleaded for time to catch his breath Tuesday after the sustained applause that followed his rapturous showstopping number, “Friend Like Me.”
That particular scene, in which hapless street urchin Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) goes inside a magical cave at the behest of evil palace plotter Jafar (Jonathan Weir), is both a highlight of the production and symbolic of the musical’s over-the-top, pull-out-all-the-stops ambition.
From Bob Crowley’s vivid scenography to Gregg Barnes’ skimpy and billowy Arabian costumes, from Natasha Katz’s subtle desert-hued lighting to Nicholaw’s big, gaudy dance numbers, this show aims to wow. True, you can say it’s a little broad at times — well, nearly all the time. But what is it supposed to be? It’s a magic carpet fairy-tale ride, after all.
The story is a cultural fantasia of class anomie and ripe curiosity. Aladdin, who makes his home on the streets stealing for a living with his good-looking and surprisingly fleet-footed gang, dreams of a home with indoor plumbing. Princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla) dreams of freedom beyond the palace walls. Their worlds collide when she goes in disguise into the market, where Aladdin, who is well-known to vendors and the authorities, is arrested.
Meanwhile, the sultan (JC Montgomery) wants Jasmine to marry so that he could pass on his kingdom. For her part, Jasmine is not interested in becoming some vain prince’s possession. She wants to marry a man of her choosing, and for love.
Scheming Jafar, assisted by his sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon as a mini-sumo wrestler), unwittingly makes it possible for commoner Aladdin and Princess Jasmine to bridge a chasm.
Bookwriter Chad Beguelin has made this show hip and modern. Jasmine has more power and agency than almost any fairy-tale princess. And as played by McCalla, she’s totally believable and in command. The genie, too, has a surprising desire.
“Aladdin” is studded with contemporary references and mannerisms, which makes it not only magical but transporting.
Nicholaw’s principals are, to a person, excellent. Jacobs, who played Aladdin on Broadway, imbues him with both innocence and winsome joy. He’s got a lot of pizazz.
Jacobs’ Aladdin, irrepressible and optimistic, is a winner from his smile to his beautiful singing. He’s well-matched with McCalla, a charismatic player who is sure of her power.
Even Weir’s Jafar, a broad villain, has his charms. But that’s not a surprise. From start to finish, this “Aladdin” is enchanting.