Since selling out nearly three months of performances in the first quarter of 2018, the North American tour of Disney’s Aladdin has returned to the Pantages Theatre — through only Sunday, September 23rd — with the same verve and gusto that initially ingratiated itself to audiences in the region. The tour, happening concurrently with the Broadway run, is similarly a masterclass on superb singing, stand-up-and-cheer choreography, and eye-catching splendor, which make this peregrination to Agrabah as beautiful as it gets. No expense is spared in presenting Aladdin live and in three glorious dimensions, which looks and feels like a more materialized version of the 1992 animated film and 2019 live-action remake.
Of course, the premise, notwithstanding its exotic setting, draws on the tried-and-true forbidden-lovers trope between its titular character, the “street rat” Aladdin, and his love interest, the well-heeled Princess Jasmine who feels “trapped” by antiquated customs forcing a betrothal. Getting in the way of the improbably amorous union is the nefarious Jafar who is swooned by the notion of becoming the Sultan of Agrabah; to this aim, he consults his unholy book which tells of a lamp and a “diamond in the rough” who can retrieve it. Not to mention is perhaps the star of the show in the iconic Genie who, in granting Aladdin a trio of wishes, finds himself a friend of similar standing and joins in on an odyssey to reclaim his individual freedom.
Front and center in this Arabian adventure are the behind-the-scenes virtuosos like Alan Menken whose music, in conjunction with lyricists Tim Rice, Howard Ashman, and Chad Beguelin (who also wrote the book), sets the literal tone with melodies and phrasing that woo the listener just as they originally did three decades ago. The incredible talent of Casey Nicholaw can’t be understated, either, who functions as both director and choreographer, certifying Aladdin as one of the best paced musicals on stage given that the two-hour-and-thirty-minute runtime flies by, leaving attendees wanting more.
As much as it regales with its music, narrative, and performances, Aladdin is simply mesmerizing to look at — a credit to scenic designer Bob Crowley whose jaw-dropping Cave of Wonders, among other grand set pieces, in combination with special effects by Jeremy Chernick and projections by Daniel Brodie, amount to a mélange of breathtaking sights. In addition, Gregg Barnes’ dashing costumes (e.g., Jasmine’s celestially turquoise outfit, Genie’s bejeweled raiment, the company’s endless sparkling threads), Milagros Medina-Cerdeira’s makeup design (as particularly seen on the Genie, Jafar, and Iago), Natasha Katz’s majestically lush lighting, and unreal illusions circumspectly timed by Jim Steinmeyer and Rob Lake add up to “A Whole New World” that sates the audience’s yearning to be swiftly taken away on a magic carpet ride. Make no mistake about it: Disney enthusiast or not, audiences of all ages will believe in what they’re seeing, making Aladdin more of an experience than a run-of-the-mill evening at the theatre.
Adi Roy is the ambitious Aladdin, impressing with a boyish charisma that rivals the original portrayal by Adam Jacobs. Roy also possesses the athleticism that Aladdin requires to elude inauspicious encounters with the Royal Guard, is especially impressive when singing “Proud of Your Boy,” and satisfyingly jells with his co-star, Senzel Ahmady, who depicts Jasmine.
Ahmady perspicaciously uncovers a precocious grit underneath Jasmine’s sheltered existence, which makes the princess credible as one who pushes for progress. The N.Y.U. student fuels Jasmine’s motivations with seeming ease, like someone who has performed for decades, knowing exactly how to maximize her character’s value to the plot and to the audience. Ahmady, too, is an emotive vocalist, shimmering during “These Palace Walls,” and during her duets with Roy’s Aladdin in “A Million Miles Away” and “A Whole New World,” with the latter compelling spectators to stare googly-eyed at a carpet that can rotate 360 degrees.
The fearsome but comical Jafar is realized by Anand Nagraj who, with his black robe, formidable goatee, and serpent-shaped staff in hand, looks and feels like a grade-A villain with scary-good diction. Nagraj’s Jafar is flanked by Aaron Choi who makes for a wickedly fun sidekick in Iago. Choi makes the most of his persona’s obsequiousness and antics, none more memorable than his hilarious interpretation of what an evil laugh sounds like.
Nonetheless, just like Robin Williams steals the show in the animated classic, the same can be said here for Marcus M. Martin whose garrulous Genie disarms, delights, and dazzles with an unmitigated zest that not only suffuses the stage but the entirety of the Pantages as well as Hollywood and Vine. It’s an honor to bask in Martin’s glow from his first appearance onstage when he melodiously trumpets “Arabian Nights” with his powerful vocals, which are astonishingly only warming up to deliver the spectacular “Friend Like Me,” which rouses with references to Oprah, other Disney films, includes a “Dancing with the Scimitars” sequence, tap dancing, and more. At one point, Martin’s Genie asks L.A. if they missed him; suffice it to say, they positively have. Like his fellow Akron, Ohio-brethren LeBron James, who is recognized as the Swiss army knife of the N.B.A., Martin similarly does it all, evincing several talents that make him a valuable performer while elevating his theatrical teammates.
Doing their part to make this musical lighthearted as it is thrilling are Aladdin’s three loyal buddies. Among them are Jake Letts’ entertaining Babkak, who is the ultimate foodie; Ben Chavez’s charming Omar, a purveyor of peace and dance moves; and Colt Prattes’ Kassim who balances a courageous vigor with fabulous slapstick. The hysterical trinity and their leader, along with their ensemble castmates, are tremendous in “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” in addition to “High Adventure.” Besides carrying out Nicholaw’s choreographic directives, Letts, Chavez, and Prattes also leave their mark with their venturesome harmonies. Other cast standouts include Alyssa Anani who is equally terrific as both the quirky Fortune Teller and one of Jasmine’s attendants, as well as Sorab Wadia who, despite being a Sultan slow to change with the times, comes across quite amiably.
All in all, Aladdin is one of those rare productions that can be seen several times without the worry that one may tire of it. It has all the boxes checked — Disney nostalgia, a story with high-wire dramatics, voices that gratify, and visuals that are refulgent. Moreover, the performers match each other’s passion for doing the material a great service and are collectively determined to draw in observers who can’t help but be entranced as they find their imaginations soaring “through an endless diamond sky.” Unlike some musicals that almost exclusively rely on LED backdrops, Aladdin’s production values are unmatched, ensuring that theatregoers will get their money’s worth and more.
Disney’s Aladdin will run at the Pantages Theatre through Sunday, September 23rd. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit broadwayinhollywood.com. In 2024, the musical will have a short run at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa where it will play from Tuesday, May 7th through Sunday, May 12th. For further details on that engagement, visit scfta.org.