DISNEY’S ALADDIN Musical at Fox Theater Review

It’s colorful, its fun and puts you in a good mood. No, it’s not a Holiday show but “Disney’s Aladdin” has the same mood-lifting effect, delighting audiences with colorful costumes, lively production numbers, and a few more of those wonderful Alan Menken-Howard Ashman songs than the Disney movie, all of which fills the Fabulous Fox theater with fun.

The house was packed for the Fox Theater opening night of national tour of this Broadway hit. As the title suggests, “Disney’s Aladdin” is based on the Disney animated movie, which was very loosely based on the popular fairy tale in “Arabian Nights.” The hit animated movie was elevated by catchy, fun songs by the great song-writing team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, with music by Menken and lyrics by Ashman and Tim Rice, whose music revitalized modern Disney animated musicals. But this show has an extra treat: a few more of their wonderful songs, ones that were cut from the animated movie.

The show opens with the Genie (an enthusiastic Marcus M. Martin) in a big splashy production number, “Arabian Nights,” which sets the stage and mood for the magical tale to follow. It is the first of many colorful production numbers sprinkled through out this entertaining, lively show, and sets the mood perfectly, even if Martin had to prod the holiday shopping-weary audience a bit at first, to get them on board with the fun.

After that energetic start, the show launches into its fantasy tale set in a time long ago. Inside the palace of a mythical Middle Eastern city, the sultan’s advisor Jafar (Anand Nagraj) plots with his assistant Iago (Aaron Choi) about how he can succeed the Sultan (Sorab Wadia) to become the ruler of the kingdom.

Anand Nagraj as Jafar and Aaron Choi as Iago in the Aladdin Tour. Photo: Deen van Meer / Disney. Courtesy of the Fox Theater.

In the animated Disney movie, Iago is a parrot but the producers of the musical wisely decided against having a puppet or someone dressed as a parrot play the role. Instead, the wildly-costumed, rotund and vertically-challenged Aaron Choi entertainingly plays the part, allowing him and co-villain Jafar, played well by Anand Nagraj, to milk the comedy well – with several villainous laughs and a few parrot jokes tossed in.

The obstacle in the way of Jafar’s ambitions is the Sultan’s daughter Jasmine (Senzel Ahmady). If Princess Jasmine accepts one of the many princes parading though the palace to offer their hand in marriage, Jafar’s ambitions are dashed. But so far, independent Jasmine has refused every one of them.

Jafar thinks having a powerful genie to do his bidding could help achieve his ambitions, and luckily one is rumored to be in a nearby magical cave, imprisoned in a magic lamp. The problem is that Jafar and Iago can’t enter this treasure-filled cave, only a certain innocent boy can – “a diamond in the rough.” So Jafar and Iago hatch a plan to send that boy into the magical cave to get it.

Aladdin (Adi Roy) is an orphaned teen who survives by his wits, and a bit of thievery, on the streets of this same mythical Middle Eastern city. Helping Aladdin out are his three fellow street-urchin pals, Babkak (Jake Letts), Omar (Nathan Levy) and Kassim (Colt Prattes), who spend much of their time eluding arrest by the royal police, led by fierce Razoul (Kolten Bell), while dreaming of something more from life.

The adventure story, with its comedy and romance, provide great fun but the show’s big wow are the colorful “Arabian Nights” costumes and the plentiful dazzling song-and-dance production numbers. Highlights include the opening number “Arabian Nights,” plus “Proud of Your Boy,” one of the Menken-Ashman songs cut from the movie, and Genie’s showstopper “Friend Like Me,” near the end of Act I, plus the act’s finale reprising both of those two songs. Act II adds to the dazzle with the comic opener “Prince Ali,” then the delightful “High Adventure,” featuring the fine voices of Colt Prattes and Jake Letts as Aladdin’s pals, the romantic duet “A Whole New World,” and the show’s finale, double reprise number of “Arabian Nights” with “A Whole New World.”

Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Aladdin, the new musical, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Courtesy of the Fox Theater

Stunts, a little stage magic, and stage combat with swords add to the energetic adventure fun. For Aladdin and Jasmine’s romantic duet “A Whole New World,” they ride a magic carpet at night against a starry sky, in a nicely done bit of stage magic. The sword and staff fighting scenes in the second act are also beautifully done, with the metallic ring of the striking weapons adding a wonderful touch to the scenes.

The acting is good too. Marcus M. Martin as Genie is the big personality on stage, almost the master of ceremonies for the show. Martin was funny, lively and surprisingly agile for such a big man. Adi Roy and Senzel Ahmady did well as the romantic leads, and are charming and cute in their individual scenes as Aladdin and Jasmine. As Jafar and Iago, Anand Nagraj and Aaron Choi make a great comic villain team, with Kolten Bell’s scowling guard Razoul providing more real menace to motivate the action. One of the show’s surprises were the trio of Aladdin’s pals, providing humor and action well, but showing off impressive singing voices, in the case of Clot Prattes and Jake Letts, and dancing in the case of Nathan Levy.

“Disney’s Aladdin” is a delightful crowd-pleaser for adults and kids alike, with the added enjoyment of those extra songs from Menken and Ashman, in a production that exceeded expectations for entertainment on several levels.

“Disney’s Aladdin” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox Theater through Dec. 17.

© Cate Marquis