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Disney’s ALADDIN - The Broadway Musical

Disney’s ALADDIN - The Broadway Musical

North American National Tour
Book by Chad Beguelin; Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice; Additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin

Dallas Summer Musicals

Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Associate Direction by Scott Taylor
Associate Choreography by John MacInnis
Scenic Design by Bob Crowley
Costume Design by Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Sound Design by Ken Travis
Hair Design by Josh Marquette
Make-Up Design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira
Illusion Design by Jim Steinmeyer
Special Effects by Jeremy Chernick
Fight direction by J. Allen Suddeth
Production Supervisor- Jason Trubitt
Production Stage Manager- Kim Vernace
Stage Manager- Jimmie Lee Smith
Production Stage Manager (North American Tour)- Michael McGoff)

Clinton Greenspan (Aladdin)
Major Attaway (Genie)
Kaenaonālani Kekoa (Jasmine)
Jonathan Weir (Jafar)
Reggie De Leon (Iago)
Jerald Vincent (Sultan)
Zach Bencal (Babkak)
Ben Chavez (Omar)
Colt Prattes (Kassim)
Korie Lee Blossey (Standby Genie, Sultan)
Adam Stevenson (Standby Jafar & Sultan)
Frank Viveros (Standby Genie/Babkak)
Michael Bullard (Assistant Dance Captain, Swing, Understudy Omar & Iago)
Michael Callahan (Dance Captain, Fight Captain, Swing, Understudy Aladdin & Iago)
Bobby Daye (Razoul, Ensemble)
Cornelius Davis (Ensemble)
Mathew deGuzman (Ensemble)
Brian Dillon (Swing, Understudy Iago)
Olivia Donalson (Attendant, Fortune Teller, Ensemble)
Max B. Ehrlich (Ensemble)
Samantha Farrow (Ensemble)
Erik Hernandez (Shop Owner, Ensemble)
Orianna Hilliard (Swing)
Cameron Hobbs (Henchman, Ensemble)
Cameron Mitchell Jackson (Ensemble)
Mitchell Jackson (Ensemble)
Albert Jennings (Henchman, Ensemble, Understudy Aladdin & Kassim)
Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua (Ensemble, Understudy Omar)
Jason Scott Macdonald (Fight Captain, Ensemble)
Charles McCall (Prince Abdullah, Ensemble, Henchman, Understudy Kassim)
Angelina Mullins (Ensemble)
Celina Nightengale (Ensemble)
Liv Symone (Attendant, Ensemble)
Alec Varcas (Swing)
Annie Wallace (Attendant, Ensemble, Understudy Jasmine)
Michelle West (Ensemble)
Zach Williams (Ensemble)

Reviewed Performance: 6/7/2019

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Disney machine has had a somewhat conflicted, bumpy journey on Broadway ever since they first arrived in 1994 with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the Palace Theatre. While it was a colossal financial success and became one of Broadway’s longest running hits, it was met with mixed reviews by the New York press. It did receive nine Tony nominations, but alas losing Best Musical to Sondeim’s PASSION. Nonetheless, guess which one has been mounted around the United States over and over by hundreds of theater companies around the world while the other production barely gets revived?

So, you want something artistic said Disney? We’ll give you friggin art! And did they ever with the history making THE LION KING. Disney spent millions in refurbishing the New Amsterdam Theater for its opening in 1997 with this jaw dropping spectacle that beat with a glorious heart for all ages. The musical moved to the Minksoff in 2006 where it is still playing to sold out houses. THE LION KING is the only Disney musical to win them the Tony award for Best Musical.

But then the house of the mouse hit an artistic roadblock as several of their next musicals did not reach either the critical acclaim nor box office hit status of their predecessors, and in some instances both. There was the critically panned and box office failure of TARZAN (2006) that somehow never got off the ground. THE LITTLE MERMAID (2008) also struggled with tepid reviews and ran for only 685 reviews. However, this musical was given a totally new revised look (including changes in the book and score) for the national tour that fared much better and has been resurrected with new life thanks to the countless productions done around the country.

Disney finally got back on track thanks to two productions, with Elton John’s AIDA (2000) and MARY POPPINS (2004). Both became major box office hits and earned critical praise.

Next came NEWSIES in 2012, where it received glowing reviews and became a powerful box office hit for Disney. The national tour also was a huge financial success for the mouse. Once the rights were released it has appeared on practically every theater’s season around the United States (including the DFW area).

One musical that still has not reached Broadway (yet) from da mouse is THE HUNCHBACK OF NORTE DAME. It has been done in Berlin, while here in the states it has had productions at La Jolla Playhouse and the Papermill Playhouse. But not the great white way. There is talk of taking it there, but so far, no confirmation.

Currently Disney has FROZEN playing at the St. James Theater on Broadway (which I saw last season). This eye popping, fantastic musical opened in 2018 and received three Tony award nominations including Best Musical. It is still playing to sold out houses.

So, da mouse has FROZEN, THE LION KING, and one more musical playing on Broadway right now, ALADDIN. And that musical finally has its first North American tour, and last night it had its Dallas Summer Musicals debut. (Reviewed Friday June 10th)

Just a couple of weeks ago Disney released the live version of the classic 1992 animated musical film. Box office wise it is doing its usual Disney magic of getting all the coins, but critically, not so much. The reviews at best are 50-50 (Entertainment Weekly gave it at D- while Rotten Tomatoes has it at 56%). I had great expectations when I went to go see it and walked out wanting my money back. It was a lifeless, monotonous, overly CGI film that took out every ounce of what made that animated film so memorable. Will Smith, for me was just miscast in the role as the genie. The musical numbers were slashed to pieces, so that they could add all those ridiculous special effect scenes. Finally, Mena Massoud as Aladdin had not one ounce of charm or chemistry to make you root for him. Disney already screwed it up with its DUMBO remake, and now this. I am already dreading with what they have done to THE LION KING remake. So how was the actual live stage musical version you ask?

Thankfully, the stage musical is a much, much better representation of the animated classic than the current live film. Chad Beguelin’s book is extremely faithful to the film, plus he has added some new characters that elevate the comedy to mirthful results and connects the storyline charmingly. He has added some whiz banging pop culture one liners thrown in there just for us adults as well! Beguelin just this season earned Tony nods for his magnificent book and lyrics for the musical THE PROM which I reviewed during its Atlanta out of town tryout.

The score is all there from the film, as well as three songs that were cut from the film plus four new numbers. The entire production is directed and choreographed by the genius that is Casey Nicholaw. This man has become the next Bob Fosse/Tommy Tune/Michael Bennett. Every show he choreographs and directs becomes a Tony award nominated/winning box office hit! As you read this review, he has on Broadway the Tony Award nominated, critically acclaimed hit THE PROM. For ALADDIN, Nicholaw adds layers of comedy, but also pulls the brakes to make sure there are tender moments for our two romantic leads to have their intimate moments to find themselves in this world and each other. Nicholaw’s choreography is full of pizzazz and wow, especially in the Act I finale, “Friend In Me” where he pulls out all the tricks that he has up his sleeve to make the audience go wild!

Bob Crowley’s scenery is charming and a feast for the eyes. He has an array of brightly colored backdrops for several scenes, a central set for the village kissed in sun burst oranges and reds, above it hangs a billowing scalloped tent. For the Princess’s chamber he has created a massive gorgeous white circular window in ornate design. And wait till you see what he created for the cave of wonders, let’s just say I started to drool! (inside joke for my friends and COLUMN subscribers/readers who follow me). The lighting design by Natasha Katz is sublime with a palette of dazzling colors and special effects throughout the evening. What she created for the musical numbers “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World” is lighting design at its finest!

But then there are those costumes! Gregg Barnes’s costume design in a word are…OUT OF THIS WORLD SPECTACULAR! Okay, make that five words. You need to bring your sunglasses to see this musical because of all those rhinestones, beads, and sequins on that stage! The cost to create these exquisite pieces must cost a fortune. From where I was sitting, I could clearly see the detailed beading on the coats, blouses, vests, skirts, boots, and turbans. On the guards even the heads of the animals that served as their sleeves had jewels for eyes! The backs of the many capes the cast wore you could see the endless beading and array of jewels. For the production numbers “Friend like Me” and "Prince Ali" the cast had like 2-3 costume changes, and those costumes had tons of bead/rhinestone/sequin work done on EACH of those costumes. They were luxurious and designed with such intricate detail.

The Illusions which were designed by Jim Steinmeyer and Jeremy Chernick’s special effects create wonder and dazzle both for the kiddos and even for the adults. The best creations these two men created along with Natasha Katz’s lighting is for “A Whole New World”, which involves the magic carpet. This scene, along with the two leads performances was the best musical number of the evening for me. It was honest, touching, and the special effects created for this duet and scene was both romantic and ethereal!

At Friday’s performance I must admit I was a tad concerned because in the opening number “Arabian Nights” it started out slightly lukewarm with timid energy from the entire cast. However, once the company got into “One Jump Head”, the energy did immediately kick in and stayed on full charge for the remainder of the performance.

What a tremendous treat for DFW audiences to have two of our very own DFW natives portraying the two male principal roles in this national tour: Clinton Greenspan (Aladdin) and Major Attaway (Genie).

Clinton Greenspan (Aladdin) delivers the best performance of the entire production from the second he appears on stage to the final moment he flies away with his betrothed. With all the bells and whistles going off around him, Greenspan became the heart and emotion that pierced through all the powder keg pizzazz and flash. He had a poignant ballad in Act I with “Proud of Your Boy” that gave Aladdin a better backstory that was missing in the animated film. He gave the lyrics just the right grounded emotion of truth and vocal restraint to give his characterization a solid subtext to crest on. Greenspan displayed organic truth of romantic chemistry with Kaenaonālani Kekoa (Jasmine). It didn’t feel or look schmaltzy. His comedic timing, pace, and delivery had the pop and crackle that was fresh and off the cuff that paid off with huge laughs from the audience. Greenspan’s vocals shimmered all evening long, hitting its marks with every musical number he sang, be it a solo, duet, or leading a huge musical company number. Mr. Greenspan’s performance is infinitely so much better than the actor in the current live film version. Greenspan must carry a massive Disney musical based on a beloved classic animated film, and Greenspan with his sensational stage presence did a superlative job in succeeding that!

Our other DFW native is Major Attaway as the Genie, the role that made history on celluloid by the comedic icon, Robin Williams. Whoever is in this role, you just cannot be another Robin Williams. There was just one. You must be your own vision of the role. With a sigh of relief Attaway steers completely away from this. He is his own creation of genie, which was an amalgamation of Cab Calloway, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, Jerry Lewis, with a pinch of Beyoncé! And may I add the man wears gold glitter on his bald head very well. Attaway does not attempt whatsoever to be Mr. Williams, he creates from the ground up his own creation of Genie. A hip, cool, dude who is thrilled to finally have someone to talk to and has a million zingers to let out! And that’s where his Achilles heel reveals itself at times. Because his first humongous-everything but the kitchen sink- showstopping number “Friend Like Me”, he must pop out with exploding energy, release an endless flow of one liners, and sing a number that goes on forever, Attaway has a tall order to fill in that first number. With that being said, I lost quite a bit of Attaway’s dialogue, one liners, and zingers in that first number. But this tend to happen off and on throughout the evening for him. His diction was at times garbled and mushed up. Or he rushed his dialogue at roadrunner speed that made it extremely difficult to understand. Regardless, Attaway is a comedic lion who roars onstage with jovial brilliance. He has the two big showstopping numbers of the evening, “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”. I won’t ruin or spoil the surprises that are in store for these numbers, but they are eye popping phenominal! Attaway and Clinton Greenspan have wonderful chemistry and immediate friendship, and they play off each other like a true duo. Major Attaway does the impossible, you don’t think or compare him to Robin Williams as you watch him on stage, instead you sit back and enjoy the creation of Attaway’s own vision of the genie. He is extraordinary!

Kaenaonālani Kekoa as Jasmine is a captivating beauty. The second she appeared on stage; you can see why Aladdin falls immediately in love with her. Kekoa has a soothing soprano voice that glistens and shimmers within the score. Her duet “A Whole New World” with Clinton Greenspan, was the best musical number of the evening. Her powerful soprano voice matching with Greenspan’s bari-tenor’s vocals of that Oscar winning ballad was exceptional. But what elevated the scene was the organic, realistic chemistry between both actors that added so much to their duet and the book scene. Ms. Kekoa was a glittery jewel in this musical.

Jonathan Weir (Jafar) and Reggie De Leon (Iago) portrayed the villains of this classic, because you know we need them in a Disney musical. Weir relished every wicked moment of his characterization, right down to his costume! The man knows how to work a billowing cape to make an exit! Del Leon as his sidekick matched him both in evil cackle and hilarious comedic timing. However, De Leon spoke in a high pitch voice which made it difficult at times to understand him, thus some of one liners and punch lines got lost. Nonetheless they made a terrific team!

Zach Bencal (Babkak), Ben Chavez (Omar), and Colt Prattes (Kassim) are new characters that were originally in the animated film, but were later cut, but brought back for the stage musical. They were an outstanding addition to the stage version and added a fresh layer of hysterical laughter all evening long. These three extremely talented actors portrayed Aladdin’s best friends who follow him from poverty to riches to prison. They have a side-splitting musical number in Act II titled “High Adventure” that had zany choreography that these three pulled off with great facial expressions and vocals that had the audience roaring in laughter. These three are scene stealing pros!

Finally, MAJOR KUDOS to the casting team for casting this production appropriately. The company was a beautiful blend of races and nationalities that made the story truly magical and appropriate.

This North American national tour is NOT to be missed, and here’s why: When this gets released for local theater companies to do, mark my words here- it will NEVER look or sound like this. The special effects here are eye popping magical. The costumes are dripping in extravagant materials and riches. The sets are big, they swirl and move. The cast is a blend of nationalities bursting with triple talent power. So, in 3-4 years when this gets released, there will twenty or so theaters doing ALADDIN, however they won’t be able to create this kind of vision. So, this is a once in a lifetime for you and your family to see this opulent musical live on stage done in this kind of radiant, sparkling magic that only Disney can create. This is how you should see this musical! So, call Uber or Lyft for a magic carpet and get to the Music Hall and see the glittering spectacle and magic of ALADDIN!

Disney’s ALADDIN- The Broadway Musical (North American National Tour)
Dallas Summer Musicals (Music Hall at Fair Park, Dallas Texas)
Plays Through June 23, 2019