By Pat Launer
Glitter and glitz. Sparkle and spangles. Feathers and fans. Sword-play and scimitars. Buff, bare-chested men and beautiful, belly-dancing babes. And a big, brash tap number.
If spectacle is your thing, “Aladdin” is your show.
It’s beyond extravagant. Spectacular, gilded, rapidly-changing sets (Bob Crowley). Seemingly a zillion dazzling, elaborate costumes (Gregg Barnes). Brilliant lighting (Natasha Katz). A huge cast (30) and a robust, 17-piece brass-heavy orchestra (that includes nine local musicians, hired for this brief run), conducted by Faith Seetoo.
The production kind of overwhelms the story. There is some cleverness, to be sure; the late Howard Ashman was a wonderful lyricist, but he died of AIDS complications before the 1992 Disney animated film was complete. Three of his original songs were included, as well as several others (with lyrics by Tim Rice or Chad Beguelin). Beguilin wrote the book — which thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is. Was there corn in ancient Arabia?
Composer Alan Menken, a Disney favorite (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) writes both catchy earworms and memorable melodies (“A Whole New World” won the Grammy for Song of the Year).
The musical opened on Broadway in 2014 and was nominated for five Tony Awards; it only won one, for James Monroe Iglehart as the manic genie (riffing on the stellar, antic Robin Williams voiceover in the animated film).
The plot is based on the Arabic-language Middle East folktale from “One Thousand and One Nights,” known in English as “The Arabian Nights.” It conflates a few elements from “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”
Set in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, the story follows the impoverished young Aladdin, who is granted three wishes by a genie in a lamp, which he uses to woo a princess and thwart the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier.
The anachronisms (wink, nudge) are ubiquitous: OMG, BFFs and an obvious recent addition, Wakanda, referring to the world of the 2018 film, “Black Panther.”
The sometimes-more-than-a-tad frenetic direction is by Tony Award-winning former San Diegan Casey Nicholaw, who also created the terrific choreography. Fortunately, the busy, frenzied scenes are offset by some quiet, poignant songs, like “Proud of Your Boy.”
As Aladdin, Clinton Greenspan is adorable, agile and charismatic. His backup buddies (Philippe Arroyo, Jed Feder and Zach Bencal) are also multi-talented — and often pretty humorous. Lissa deGuzman is a petite powerhouse as Jasmine. As the Genie, Major Attaway, who moved up from standby to main wish-giver on Broadway, milks the audience reaction mercilessly (a lot of that is in the script, but still… it does tend to cloy). He speaks so fast that his words are often unintelligible (not clear if that was an actor or a sound system problem).
So many stock characters, and such a sticky-sweet Disney ending (though to its credit, this Jasmine is a badass who stands up for herself, and this Aladdin agrees that they’ll be equals going forward).
The singing is excellent throughout, and the dancing is superb. But it’s the special effects that linger (how did they get that magic carpet to fly?). You’ll marvel at the spectacle of it all.
- “Aladdin,” the national tour brought to us by Broadway San Diego, runs through March 3 at the Civic Theatre, 3rd Avenue and B Street in downtown San Diego
- Running Time: 2½ hrs.
- Tickets ($24-$120.00) are at 888-937-8995; broadwaySD.com
Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.
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