Kaena Kekoa (Jasmine) & Jonah Ho'okano (Aladdin). Aladdin North American Tour. Photo by Deen van Meer
In 1992, the animated film Aladdin became a smash hit for Disney. Then, in 2011, it made its way onto Broadway in the form of a musical. And, proving that the story is still very much alive, it was made into a live-action film just this year.
DPAC has chosen to take the musical version, with book by Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken, and direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw, to literal new heights with its current production. And, no matter what iterations of the story you may have seen before, you, in the words of Genie (Korie Lee Blossey), “ain’t never” seen a show like this one!
From the colorful opening number of “Arabian Nights,” made complete with Nicholaw’s dazzling choreography, to the patent Disney happy ending, this show proves pure magic from beginning to end.
In the title role, handsome, lithe young Jonah Ho’Okano proves instantly charming. And, as the story takes Aladdin from a kindhearted street urchin to an impersonating prince, thanks to the help of Genie, Ho'Okano never loses that boyish charm, successfully making Aladdin a character worth rooting for from start to finish.
Ho’Okano’s rich, melodic voice adds to his character’s charms, as does his fun, lighthearted chemistry with Genie, who is arguably the star of the show. Arguably is a good word to use, however, since many characters take front and center throughout this perfect production.
For example, Aladdin’s trio of friends, Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Ben Chavez), and Kassim (Colt Prattes) add to the fun of the show throughout. Especially adept here is Bencal in his food-loving, absolutely fabulous portrayal of Babkak, closely followed by Prattes’ sturdy portrayal of the handsome and utterly endearing Kassim.
In fact, many minor characters steal the show when given room to do so. The villains of the story, Jafar (Patrick R. Brown) and Iago (Reggie De Leon) are so funny as to make them deceivingly lovable. De Leon, especially, warrants plenty of laughs with his perfectly “parroting” nature. Also noticeable and appreciated here is the great diversity in race and body size among the performers. Princess Jasmine's friends display a variety of skin tones, shapes, and sizes, ensuring that every viewer finds at least some degree of representation on this stage.
And, what a lovely stage it is! From the crowded streets of the city to the lush palace interiors, Bob Crowley has truly outdone himself as scenic designer. Illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer also proves wonderfully powerful here in the aptly named “Cave of Wonders,” one of the highlights of the first act. Featuring dripping gold, smoky effects, and plenty of magic-show-style magic tricks, the scenes that take place here are some of the production's most fantastical.
Of course, no Cave of Wonders would be complete without a Genie, and Blossey blooms from the moment he steps onstage. Proving he knows how to work a crowd and exhibiting old-school showmanship, Blossey creates a fabulous and surprisingly sympathetic Genie as he belts out "Friend Like Me," easily one of the best numbers of the production.
Using nomers like “best,” though, is hard in a production filled with so much magic. The magic carpet really flies, the choreography really works, and the special effects are really special. Even the most seasoned theatregoers in the audience are sure to find themselves gasping and clapping as they immerse themselves in this production which, like its themes, is filled with childlike wonder.
Funny, surprisingly adult (but still appropriate for the littles), and amazing every step of the way, this production of Aladdin is the kind of theatre people might wish for…if they had a magic lamp. Anyone who wants to experience both Disney magic and theatre magic all in one go would do well to take in this perfect and oh-so-special family production. The perfect way to feel like a kid again, Aladdin is absolutely wonderful from start to happy ending.
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