Everybody has a favorite Disney movie; for me, “Aladdin” has always taken the cake. When I started seeing television commercials advertising that it had been turned into a Broadway musical, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be sitting in the New Amsterdam Theater.
I owe my huge “thank you” to my roommate and her incredibly generous family for granting my wish. In celebration of our birthdays, my roommate and I travelled to New York City with her parents on a Saturday morning to see the show later that night. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect birthday present … I mean, a musical filled with shirtless, dancing men that were absolutely “hotter than hot in a rather good way,” the show was practically made for me.
The show was cast incredibly well, especially the male characters. The sets were beautiful and incredibly ornate and the special effects were very impressive. The show was enthralling and I probably looked like a little kid at their first basketball game throughout the show. Luckily, the man sitting next to me thought it was hilarious so I did not annoy any of my fellow audience members!
I was immediately launched into nostalgia with the opening number “Arabian Nights.” Although they decided to do away with the traditional peddler, the tune still felt so classic and segued nicely into “One Jump Ahead.” It was during this number that I too became a “one [wo]man rise in crime” as I took a total of 18 Snapchat videos throughout the night. Yes, I broke the law 18 times during my final 24 hours of being 18 years old.
One element that Broadway added to this classic Disney story was Aladdin’s mourning over his deceased mother. Not appearing in the original film, “Proud of Your Boy,” described this dynamic perfectly and let Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) showcase his vocal talent. Frequent Broadway-goers will recognize his vocal style from his performance as Simba in the Broadway musical “The Lion King.”
In the next scene, we finally meet Jasmine, played by Courtney Reed, a name you may recognize from “Law & Order: SVU” and “CSI: NY.” Unfortunately, she was one of the few characters who did not live up to my unrealistically high expectations from the original animated film. However, she is still a Broadway actress and performed excellently, particularly in “These Palace Walls,” her only focus number of the night.
Another interesting curve Broadway threw at the neo-traditionalist “Aladdin” fans, such as myself, was the riddance of all of the animal characters in the movie. Iago, the parrot, was replaced by a person posing as Jafar’s assistant. Abu, the monkey, and Raja, the tiger, were replaced by three new male characters and three ensemble members respectively.
The female ensemble members did not play a major role in the performance as a whole, but the others had significant stage time. I was a little salty about such a major change at first, but Aladdin’s three best friends Kassim (played by Steel Burkhardt), Babkak (played by Brian Gonzalez), and Omar (played by Jonathan Schwartz) quickly won me over. The number “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” worked well to give the three new characters some personality in the first act.
Next, Jasmine and Aladdin meet in the marketplace and, after narrowly dodging the guards, perform “A Million Miles Away.” This number was dominated by the typical Broadway style and optimistic theme of self-discovery.
When we left the theater, my roommate, her family and I kept talking about how impressed we were with the actor who played Jafar and how well he fit his character. Well, no wonder, Jonathan Freeman played this part and was also the voice of Jafar in the original Disney animated feature film. In my opinion, his versatility as an actor being able to perform live and be the voice over for an animated character is pretty remarkable.
In the next scene, Jafar and Iago (played by Don Darryl Rivera) finally track down Aladdin and convince him to do their dirty work with the performance of “Diamond in the Rough.” This number reinforced my pre-existing view of Jafar as the most suave Disney villain in my childhood lineup of films. Rivera also had the opportunity to show off his very unique and interesting vocal style, not too bad for a Broadway debut!
The stage was next transformed into the infamous cave of wonders and the set was breathtaking and incredibly ornate. Jacobs finally got ahold of the lamp and after what seemed like “10,000 years” the Genie and 2014 Tony Award winner, James Monroe Iglehart was welcomed onto the stage.
I think it is safe to say that Iglehart did my childhood hero Robin Williams proud in his performance of “Friend Like Me.” His voice and theatrics were incredibly impressive and his stage presence was overwhelming. Also, Broadway pulled in lines from several other classic Disney songs when composing this number including “Tale As Old As Time,” “Part of Your World” and “Colors of the Wind,” which was very exciting for all of the grown up children in the audience, including us.
The “Act One Finale” was great and featured Aladdin’s first wish… to be turned into a prince! Yes, I cheered out loud at his costume change and promptly went to buy my eight dollar, flat soda just for the stupid cup as the curtain fell.
The second act opened with “Prince Ali,” my personal favorite song from the original movie, and it was the perfect way to start the show back up.
Up next, the moment everyone was anticipating, Aladdin and Jasmine took their magic carpet ride and performed “A Whole New World.” This scene’s set was by far the most impressive of the show. The backdrop was a beautiful night sky, Jacobs and Reed floated around on their carpet, surrounded by stars and the vocal chemistry of the pair was undeniable.
It wasn’t until the second act that I fell in love with Babkak, Omar and Kassim, but their performance of “High Adventure” had me completely bought in. This number is hilarious and features slow-motion running and lyrics such as “they’re playing music while we’re fighting” and “someone’s out there guys, someone BAD.” Need I say more?
The next number “Somebody’s Got Your Back” cutely emphasized Aladdin’s friendships with the rest of the characters onstage including Babkak, Omar, Kassim and the Genie. This number was followed promptly by the reprise of “Proud of Your Boy” and tears in my eyes.
One of my few complaints of the show was that we did not see enough of the Sultan, played by Clifton Davis, who has appeared in seven Broadway shows including “Wicked.” Although his stage time was limited, he definitely left a mark in mind, especially after his impressive performance in his reprise of “Prince Ali.”
Shortly after was the reprise by Jafar of “Prince Ali” during which he exposed Aladdin’s true self and gained power of the Genie. Despite the fact that Jafar is supposed to be the bad guy, I can’t not love him after such an incredible performance!
The finale of the show definitely had the adrenaline pumping through my body and brought the theater to a standing ovation when all the singing and dancing stopped. I particularly liked the fact that the number acknowledged the show’s audience-engaging modern flare that was so prevalent as Iglehart sang, “it’s the plot that you knew with a small twist or two, but the changes we made were slight.”
Now, I’ve seen several Broadway shows and always donated to Broadway Cares after each performance, but I have never been as tempted to donate $60 to receive an autographed poster as I was that night. Aladdin is definitely my favorite Broadway musical that I have seen and I recommend it to audience members of all ages. You are never too old for a little wishful thinking.