REVIEW: ‘Aladdin’ Dazzles in its Philadelphia Premiere
Broadway Philadelphia brings the classic Disney film to spectacular musical life.
Aladdin is everything a kid (or adult) could wish for in a play—music, adventure, sparkle, humor, romance, magic, and of course a happy ending. The stage musical of the classic Disney film is now playing at the Academy of Music through July 1, and it is as fantastic and crowd pleasing as its source material.
All your favorite songs are there– plus plenty of new ones written just for the play—and the accompanying choreography and special effects are dazzling and larger-than-life. There are thrilling pyrotechnics, streamers exploding into the audience, and of course, the incredible flying carpet ride at the centerpiece of “A Whole New World.”
The set design is decadent, from the Cave of Wonders dripping with gold to Jasmine’s jewel box of a bedroom; and the costumes are awash in color and sequins. In all elements, it is clear that the creators have worked to make the experience of seeing a familiar property on stage something truly fresh and special.
The story largely remains the same from the movie, save for a few new human characters swapped in for the leads’ animal sidekicks. Instead of a parrot, Iago is a clownish flunky who is somehow equally as ridiculous in his human form. Aladdin and Jasmine each gain a trio of friends rather than their monkey and tiger pals. In Aladdin’s case, his friends are standout characters that add (even more) comic relief, their own boy-band-esque musical numbers, and some hilariously bad puns (“It’s not nice to bully!” “Mmmm, did you say tabouli?”).
And while the play hews closely to the 1992 Disney feature, it certainly gets some updates to cater to its 2018 audience. While Jasmine was always portrayed as an independent-minded character, this is played up in the musical. Her first suitor storms off after she tells him she wants a marriage of equals, and expects to be able to speak her mind and get some help changing their baby’s diapers, and the audience cheered when she asked her father “Why do I have to marry at all? Why can’t a woman rule the kingdom?”
Meanwhile, when Aladdin first encounters Genie and incredulously asks if he really came from inside the lamp, Genie sarcastically responds, “No, I came from Wakanda,” complete with the salute. The play is filled with lots of these clever asides and cultural references, which certainly helps its appeal to both kids and their parents on different levels.
More about that Genie, because he is a show-stealing revelation. Stepping into a role made iconic by Robin Williams is no small feat—how do you avoid being compared to the incomparable star?
Michael James Scott—who originated the role in Australia’s production, as well as performed it on Broadway—absolutely nails it by pivoting and playing Genie with a whole lot of camp and confidence. He immediately endears himself to the audience, pulling an Eagles hat from his pocket in the introduction, and every moment thereafter. At one point he performs a cabaret medley of songs from other Disney princess movies! At another moment he is breaking the fourth wall, snapping, and telling the audience “Oh no, he didn’t!” He commands the stage, and even the crew, asking for a blackout or spotlight when he is feeling particularly dramatic.
Aladdin is a must-see for any fan of the movie, and would likely delight those not as familiar with the story by sheer spectacle alone. The play does run over two hours with intermission, so it might be a bit much for very small kids not accustomed to sitting still, but there is plenty there to keep the excitement and interest up the entire time.
There are also weekend matinee performances, if bedtime is an issue. Finally, don’t miss taking a picture with the Magic Lamp in the lobby before you head into the theater!
Disney’s Aladdin is playing at the Academy of Music, located at 240 South Broad Street in Philadelphia, now through July 1. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Kimmel Center box office.
Photographs courtesy of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.