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THEATER REVIEW Aladdin
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2017-04-26

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Book: Chad Beguelin; Score: Alan Menken with Howard Ashman, Tim Rice & Beguelin. At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000 or BroadwayInChicago.com; $44-$153. Runs through: Sept. 10

There's no disguising the fact that the national tour of Aladdin is anything but a corporate Disney product. But if audiences want to shell out the big bucks for a splashy screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1992 animated feature, is it so wrong for Disney to oblige them with such a wowing family-friendly spectacle?

One thing you can't accuse Disney of is stinting on Aladdin's budget, and this 2014 Broadway musical is full of eye candy all around. Bob Crowley's alternately elegant and bling-filled set designs are full of dazzle, while Gregg Barnes' parade of elaborate costumes are both colorful and very revealing ( especially if shapely chorus girls or hunky hirsute chorus boys are your thing ).

Disney also doesn't stint on talent, especially with Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw ( The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten! ) helming the production as both director and choreographer. And the Aladdin cast is full of charismatic, triple-threat performers including the original Broadway Aladdin of Adam Jacobs, the feisty Princess Jasmine of Isabelle McCalla and the overexcited Genie of Anthony Murphy.

Nicholaw also brings lots of surprises to the production, including a mind-boggling flying carpet sequence for "A Whole New World" and other tricks that can be attributed to the "Illusion Design" of Jim Steinmeyer and the "Special Effects Design" of Jeremy Chernick. True, some chase and fight sequences can feel far too cartoonish, but you have to consider the source material.

Where Aladdin is more problematic is how its film parts and new material have been conjoined together by book writer and new co-lyricist Chad Beguelin. While it's nice that some of Alan Menken's cut songs co-written with the late lyricist Howard Ashman have been restored ( "Proud of Your Boy," "High Adventure" ), they don't always fit in comfortably with the narrative. ( Neither do the new Menken-Beguelin songs. )

There's also the issue of non-human sidekicks from the film being replaced for the stage. Reggie De Leon has fun as the haranguing human henchman Iago to Jonathan Weir's erudite villain Jafar. Yet Aladdin's street-urchin sidekicks ( Zachary Bencal as the ever-hungry Babkak, Philippe Arroyo as the geeky Omar and likely Aladdin understudy Mike Longo as the looker Kassim ) often get saddled with some really hokey comedy dialogue.

Yet Aladdin is very upfront about not taking itself too seriously. Even the moralistic lessons of looking for inner beauty and being one's true self are played lightly and don't get in the way of all the fun, fun, fun. And as an all-ages stage spectacle, Aladdin certainly delivers what it promises.


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