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Theater Thursday: Aladdin

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Performing Arts Issue: February 2019
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The Disney classic comes to Gammage.

Aladdin—It's one of the original underdog stories—the poor boy from the Arabian Nights who finds fame and fortune when he's befriended by the Genie of the Lamp. Disney's animated musical film of 1992 gave the late lamented aladdinRobin Williams one of his signature roles as the frenetic, blue-skinned, shape-shifting Genie, and its score had a hit with the romantic duet "A Whole New World."

Inevitably it had a Broadway mounting too, in 2014, the national tour of which plays at Gammage Auditorium through Sunday, February 17. But a live stage version required some tweaking. Orphaned street urchin Aladdin no longer has a monkey sidekick, for instance; instead, in a revival of an early, discarded concept for the movie, here he has a trio of rascally streetwise pals, fellow subsistence thieves. And Iago, toadying sidekick to the villainous vizier Jafar, is now no longer a parrot; he's just a guy who jabbers like a parrot.

Other than that, though, there isn't much that the Broadway Aladdin leaves out, in the way of extravagant flourishes. The settings, from the bustling street market to the Sultan's palace to the supernatural Cave of Wonders, are eye-popping, as are the effects, from the appearances of the Genie to fireworks and streamers to sudden transformations of costume before our eyes to a no-kidding flying carpet. Strictly in terms of theatrical spectacle, the show is hard to fault, and it's not a bad way to introduce a younger kid to the joys of live theatre.

In terms of content, it's the standard Disney template, with a glory-seeking hero and a princess yearning for broader horizons. The four or five songs from the movie, composed by Alan Menken with lyrics either by the late Howard Ashman, who died while the film was in production, or by Tim Rice, hold up very well. A couple of others by Menken and Ashman that were unused in the movie but restored for this version are also strong, especially a pretty showcase number for the title character called "Proud of Your Boy." The rest, written for the show by Menken and lyricist Chad Beguelin, are serviceable but on the forgettable side.

All of them are sold hard by the vigorous cast. In the title role, the compact Clinton Greenspan has a lovely voice and a likable manner, while Lissa deGuzman gives hilariously arch, brittle line readings as Princess Jasmine. But the true star part is, of course, the Genie, played by four different actors during the Gammage run. It was the ebullient Michael James Scott the night I saw the show, and he turned his numbers into extended stand-up routines, throwing in references to everything from Oprah to Black Panther to Let's Make a Deal. At one point he even brandished an ASU Sun Devil hat. The audience loved it.

For ticket information and details, go to asugammage.com or call 480-965-3434.