Stage

Aladdin the Musical Keeps the Magic Going Throughout

Major Attaway's sparkling genie.
Major Attaway's sparkling genie. Photo by Matthew Murphy
All aboard! There's plenty of room on this fabulous flying carpet for the entire family.

Hop on with Aladdin and Jasmine and take a ride through the wonders of the Broadway musical Aladdin spun by a host of Tony-winners and Disney wizards. These master craftsmen have been responsible for such disparate shows as The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Kinky Boots, Beauty and the Beast, Evita, The Little Shop of Horrors, Mary Poppins, and a host of others. Formed out of the Disney juggernaut, Aladdin brings these creatives together and lets them fly. We soar high with them. What a wonderful show this is.

The animated classic (1992) was kicked into the stratosphere by Robin Williams's manic vocal performance as the blue genie, a free-associating Borscht Belt comic on Dexedrine. The Broadway musical (2014) wisely morphs Genie into a Cab Calloway hipster, still crackin' wise, but more accessible and full of spirited uptown attitude.

In the musical's amazingly extravagant first act closing number inside the Cave of Wonders, “A Friend Like Me,” the Genie (the nimble and snap-happy Major Attaway) sports a zoot suit with matching harem pants. The song keeps building and building, adding more dancers with each succeeding phrase, until the entire stage is packed by slinky chorines and muscle boys boogying in faux Arabian nights moves, all while parodying old Broadway. It's a complete show in itself, a 3-D facsimile of what, we thought, could only be done so surrealistically in animation. Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw goes into overdrive. This is one of the most splendid moments in any contemporary Broadway musical. It's its own high. This dance sequence is reason enough for Aladdin's existence.

But there are many magical moments throughout. Bob Crowley's ever-changing sets and backgrounds merit their own applause, as do Gregg Barnes's opulent costumes – a riot of jewel tones and sequins, and the exquisite lighting from old pro Natasha Katz. Put them all together, and you get “A Whole New World,” the musical's hit song.

We're in Jasmine's room in the palace. In disguise as a prince, beggar Aladdin, who has met the princess before in the market and instantly fallen in love, arrives to woo her. Headstrong and independent (like most of Disney's modern female avatars) she rebuffs him. Apparently crestfallen, he jumps out the balcony window, only to float into view on his magic carpet. Do you trust me, he asks. I don't know why, but I do, she replies and takes his hand. The walls break away, the star background shines like no other sky before, and the pair fly off in front of a looming full moon. As they sing their love duet, they drift around the stage in one of the most perfect scenes imaginable. If this isn't stage magic, what is?

The show never palls. Nicholaw won't allow that, filling every scene with action, or nudging the dialogue along with a friendly shove, until the ensemble can get back to dancing. The cheesy jokes are kept to a minimum, and the basic moral of the story to “be yourself” is fortunately put on simmer. This being Disney, there's not much room for subtlety, so the actors are pretty much left to supply their one-note roles with innate charisma. They all come fully prepared.

Clinton Greenspan is hunky and youthful as Aladdin with appropriate tenor belt as if a former Mousketeer. Kaenaonalani Kekoa is feisty and charming as Jasmine, although the horrid Hobby acoustics don't do her voice any favors. Jonathan Weir is oily and mustache-twirling as evil Jafar, while Reggie de Leon is unctuous and obsequious as Jafar's toadying sidekick Iago. And Aladdin's trio of street friends are nicely turned by Zack Bencal, Ben Chavez, and Colt Prattes, who seems to have been chiseled by Michelangelo. (There must be a clause in the Aladdin contract that states that no chorus boy be employed if they don't have a gym membership.)

Then, of course, there's Attaway's sparkly Genie who stops the show whenever he appears. Spiffy, silky smooth, and emitting star wattage, he's got this character down to a science, having just completed a three-year Broadway run in the role. He's a delight and everything we could wish for.

So why are you waiting? Go hitch a ride with Aladdin & company. You'll be pleasantly surprised. Magic in the theater still exists.

Aladdin continues through July 14 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For more information, call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $30-$95.
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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover