Dallas — In a whirlwind of magical escapism, Disney’s Aladdin flies into the Music Hall at Fair Park for a jolly summertime run. Presented by Dallas Summer Musicals, this particular tour has two North Texans returning home in starring roles, Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin and Major Attaway as the Genie.
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon, The Prom), it features all the original 1992 motion picture music by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. For the musical, songs that didn’t make the film cut are revived, and Chad Beguelin adds additional lyrics, as well as supplying the book. Faith Seetoo acts as music director and conductor. Since the production debuted on Broadway in 2014, any comparisons and contrasts here refer to the animated picture, rather than the recently-released live-action flick.
Not much changes from the film in the actual story arc. Aladdin finds himself in the possession of a magical lamp, and he uses one of his wishes to make himself a prince to woo Princess Jasmine (Kaenaonālani Kekoa) of Agrabah. He must dodge the evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir) who wants to use the lamp to take over the kingdom. Lessons of bravery, camaraderie, honesty, and loyal unfold amidst loads of comedy.
Even though the narrative stays the same, significant character additions allow for more material. Instead of the animal sidekicks, the hero and heroine have three companions each. Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Ben Chavez), and Kassim (Colt Prattes) for Aladdin and palace attendants (Olivia Donalson, Liv Symone, and Annie Wallace) for Jasmine.
The musical also references the original source material, as Aladdin’s talks of his mother (deceased in this show) and a questionable uncle appears. Most of these elements were cut from the movie’s storyline for clarity.
Considering the social and cultural issues the film’s release brought up, a musical produced a couple of decades later might be a place to address them. Those looking for further depth or insight, however, won’t find any, as this is a show that plays up clichés for comedic results, dazzles with brilliant visual design, and entertains with lengthy choreographed musical numbers. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, frequently breaks the fourth wall, and is filled with pop culture references.
Scenic and lighting design (Bob Crowley and Natasha Katz, respectively) are absolutely stunning. Sunset tones portray the desert warmth and palace scenes heavily feature the curving, circular lines of Middle Eastern architecture. Glittering costumes (by Gregg Barnes) for characters associated royalty and the jewel-toned palette of marketplace citizens add to the wonder.
The Genie’s flashy showmanship has always been front and center, so it’s no surprise that Attaway—who has played Genie on Broadway for years and asked to be in the tour so he could perform for his local crowd—garners the most applause and completely steals the show. He rattles off one-liners at breakneck speed but with such an ease that it’ll likely take multiple viewings to peel back the layers of his performance and character. He knows how to rev up an audience and handily juggles the vocal ranges within each song.
Bencal, Chavez, Prattes are hilarious with their distinct personalities, and Reggie De Leon as Iago hams it up as the stereotypical, naïve sidekick to Jonathan Weir as the pinnacle of a traditional evil Disney villain.
Most performers find their strengths in comedic timing and physical theater, rather than singing. Their voices are admirable, for sure, but very few of the songs allow for the actors to show off emotional depth and powerful notes. Greenspan and Kekoa have their moments with “Proud of Your Boy” and “These Palace Walls” (respectively) and share an endearing moment with “A Million Miles Away,” but more impressive is their ability to dance and quickly maneuver around the stage as well as the ensemble.
The evening includes a surprising number of dance sequences and impressive range of styles. The opening “Arabian Nights” uses more Middle Eastern genres, as the men’s ensemble includes dabke and the ladies have scarf-based choreography. Market scenes contain carefully choreographed chaos, with cartoonish fight segments and impressively physical staging for Aladdin in “One Jump Ahead.” A quartet with Aladdin and his friends shows off more theatrical staging, and additional melding of jazz and Middle Eastern style gives off a distinct Jack Cole flair. Act II’s opening “Prince Ali” boasts a plethora of costume changes and fast-moving staging to simulate Aladdin’s endless parade of wealth, and of course, a show-stopping finale has audience members on their feet.
Most jaw-dropping, however, is “Friend Like Me.” The contours and materials for the Cave of Wonders allows the lighting to take on new life, and Nicholaw throws everything but the kitchen sink into the long but sensational number. It begins subtly, focusing on the Genie with only a little bit of movement from the ensemble. As it grows in complexity, choreography resembles much of the previous segments, then takes a sharp turn to competition Latin, with Attaway partnering Greenspan. A brief bit of square-dancing turns into a special song medley that I won’t spoil here, and it ends with a 42nd Street-style tap number, complete with the brilliantly lit staircase.
Running at just under two-and-a-half hours with intermission, the musical delivers a toe-tapping, head-bobbing evening of pizazz. It plays up to nostalgia and patrons’ appetite for spectacle, excelling on both accounts.