Ever since “The Lion King” premiered on Broadway back in 1997, Disney has been recreating its beloved animated films for the stage, with successful runs of “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and now, the popular flick “Frozen.” The key to their success? They stay true to the original film while also adding depth to their roles, growing them from one-dimensional fairytale personalities into complex characters that can evoke real emotion.
“Disney’s Aladdin,” which opened on Broadway in 2014 and is currently playing in Baltimore, stays true to this formula. Once audiences take that trip to Agrabah, the fictional Middle Eastern city that is the home to this vivid and fun-filled plot, they will find the characters they love have been brought to life, bringing a few surprises along with them.
The story is pretty much the same, telling the age-old tale of the princess and the pauper — or in this case, the sweet orphaned thief Aladdin, portrayed by Jonah Ho’okano, and doe-eyed rebel Princess Jasmine played by Kaena Kekoa, who is set to be married off by her father, the Sultan.
Aladdin and Jasmine’s chance street encounter ignites a spark between them. But circumstances threaten to tear them apart when Aladdin is sucked into the evil Jafar’s plot to seize power via a magic lamp concealed in the Cave of Wonders.
I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see much of Jasmine in the opening act. But when she grabs more stage time, Kekoa’s committed portrayal is granted a few, perfect moments to assert her alluring, confident curiosity as well as show off her comedic abilities and impressive vocals. Her interactions with Ho’okano were also significant; the chemistry was strong between the two.
In this new vision of the old classic, we have, of course, a sassy, fast-talking genie — Korie Lee Blossey — who introduces the Broadway version, then takes center stage when Aladdin rubs the magical lamp to free him.
Blossey is perfect in his role. His energy and wit enliven every scene he’s in, which isn’t a lot of stage time until he’s freed from the magic lamp near the end of the first half.
Jafar, the anti-hero of Aladdin, was also played with delectable comic menace, by Jonathan Weir, along with his amusing sidekick Iago, played by the humorous Reggie De Leon.
Now, in the second half, we get to the fun part: Aladdin rubs the lamp and the Genie appears, a tornado of energy and humor, eager and willing to fulfill three wishes and provide tons of Broadway-style pizzazz in the process. His head is a luminous dome, his painted-on eyebrows are over-the-top, he’s fabulous and sassy, and his broad pop culture references and impersonations have been refreshed for our generation by the book writer Chad Beguelin.
And the lead-up to Aladdin and Genie’s pair up is by far the show’s brightest spot, full of song and dance to the classic “A Friend Like Me” melody. If anything deserved the standing ovation at the close of the show, it was this stunning sequence as well as the anticipated “A Whole New World” arrangement complete with the signature magic flying carpet ride.
I can’t forget to mention the other fantastic set pieces, as scenic designer Bob Crowley dazzles us first with a rosy, saturated market in Agrabah, then the elegant white gossamer of the Sultan’s palace against a sapphire sky, and finally, the immense, gold-encrusted Cave of Wonders, complete with moving pillars that slide onstage and then contracted up to their full height.
Gregg Barnes’ glittery costume design was also a standout of the show, and director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s lively dance numbers kept the show moving.
I would recommend making someone’s wish come true by taking them to this play, which runs through Sunday. Young, old, or in-between, I’m sure they will all be swept away in this exciting production’s magical spell. Aladdin will play through December 1 at the Hippodrome.