It's always a pleasure and treat to see a production at one of Hennepin Theatre Trust's many stages. They bring in some of the most sought-after and must-see musicals every year and this year is no exception. With big well-known musicals like Waitress, The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, it gets even bigger when not only Disney brings magic to the season but also opens it as well.
Disney's Aladdin is a musical version of the original animated movie. There are minor changes and the Genie ever admits it in the finale song by singing "It's the plot that you knew,/with a small twist or two/But, the changes we made/were slight." It's a story we all know too well about rags to riches and the boy getting the girl. Aladdin (played by Adam Jacobs who originated the role on Broadway) is a "street-rat" who lives by stealing off the streets. His three faithful friends Babkak, Oma, and Kassim (played by Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Mike Longo) are by his side and are the replacements for the animated monkey Abu. Yes in this version there are no animals or puppets but humans who take their place. Aladdin meets and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (played by Isabelle McCalla) however evil is afoot to try to keep them apart.
Let's get one thing straight. This musical is absolutely charming and nostalgic of the original movie. As I mentioned before, it has all of your favorite songs, moments and even lines verbatim from the movie. Fun fact: The movie won the Academy Award for Best Original Score with the hit song "a Whole New World." But I want to focus on the actors, set and changes of this production that sets it apart from the movie. Because that's what it is. It isn't the movie. It's a new group of actors who make the roles their own in an already well-known script. Speaking as an actor, that's a hard thing to do and I think they hit it out of the park.
As always I really like to talk about sets and this one was superb. Shifting from the streets of Agrabah to Jafar's evil lair to the exquisite Cave of Wonders, there was always something to see. Whether it was small details on the street or intricate designs on a scrim, it was amazing to look at. I often found myself looking at the sheer detail in some scenes and completely forgetting to pay attention to what was happening on stage. A number of layers, detail and shine in the set for Cave of Wonders was amazing and mesmerizing all at the same time due to the magic that was happening on stage.
The special effects of the theatre are one of my favorite things. I love magic and illusions. As a theatre fan sometimes I don't want to know how a production pulls off certain scenes and that was the case with Aladdin. I want to be in the dark and believe it really is, in this case, Disney magic. There were plenty of magical moments throughout the production that had me, a 24-year-old college graduate, saying "HOW DID THEY DO THAT!?" As the Genie moved around the set during the hit song "Friend Like Me" there were constantly sparks going off, disappearing and reappearing acts and plenty of other surprises I won't give away. Even during "A Whole New World," as Aladdin and Jasmine took a ride on the magic flying carpet, many audience members were left scratching their heads on how it was flying in front of their eyes. I even looked at it more closely to see if I could see wires and I saw none...which only leaves one explanation. Disney magic.
The touring cast of Aladdin is in the production for a reason. There were so many talented actors including Adam Jacobs, who played the title role Aladdin, who brought back so many fond memories of the movie. While he makes the role his own, his voice is so reminiscent of the original it fits nicely even in the new songs that the musical brings including "Proud of Your Boy." Isabelle McCalla plays Jasmine and brings a little bit more spunk and sass to a princess who was already so ahead of her time, and I applaud her for it. At one point she complained to the audience about how it was time for a woman to rule the kingdom, which was met with an enormous applause. Jasmine doesn't let her father push her around when he tries to impose sexist laws against her. She stands up for herself and one of my favorite lines made it in the musical which is when she yells "I am not a prize to be won." I can literally hear Olivia Pope in my head from ABC's Scandal yelling "If you want me, EARN ME." Jafar (played by Jonathan Weir, is creepy in a conventional Disney musical sort of way. I felt he could have gone a little further with his interpretation of the villain.
The standout star of this production is easily Genie, played by Anthony Murphy. How can anyone top the wonders that is Robin Williams in this role? I'm not trying to compare the two but the nice thing about Murphy is I never once thought "Williams did it this way and I liked it better." To be honest I didn't even think of Williams voicing the original Genie until after I left the production. Murphy is completely in his element, owns the role by completely making it his own and commands the stage every time he is released from his magic lamp. His performance in "Friend Like Me" had by far the longest applause of the entire night which was nice for him to catch his breath from the almost 8-minute long song!
Aladdin Fun Facts (courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust)
- There are over 111 moving lights in the show with special pyrotechnic effects, 38 tons of flying scenery and a magic carpet that actually flies (Shhh! It's Disney magic.)
- It takes 75 people to deliver each performance of Aladdin on tour including the cast, stage crew, musicians, dressers, hairstylists and make-up artist.
- All of the 337 costumes in the show are custom made by hand especially for the show and were created by 342 people in 26 different shops. 102 of the costume changes take place in less than one minute!
- Jasmine's wedding dress weighs 12 pounds because of all the crystal beading.
Aladdin is a fun night for families and friends of all ages. It is the epitome of Disney and theatre magic. Whether you were a kid when the movie was out or a group of friends who want to be reminded of the golden age of Disney, this is a perfect musical for you. While we all know the story and how it ends up, it's truly a magical experience to sit in the audience and watch this production take place.
Aladdin is playing now through October 8 at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets can be found here with the option of a VIP package.