Sunday, July 12, 2015

Aladdin on Broadway - Review

I try to review at least one show, movie, or tv show a week on Review Mondays. Here is this week's review of Aladdin on Broadway.
Aladdin on Broadway, New York, NY 

Overall, the production was tons of fun. It was lavish, outlandish, and a treat for the eyes and ears.

The sets were lovely: colorful and evocative of a fantasy Sahara with all the bells and whistles you would expect from a Disney production. The cave set and the jeweled palace set were beautifully envisioned and realized. The Magic Carpet Ride was particularly well done with the actors riding the carpet all over (above) the stage. 

A couple of technical glitches kept me from losing myself in the look of the production. The Aladdin (an understudy) either got caught up in his mic cord or just covered the mic when he placed his turban back on his head, because his voice kept going in and out during the song, and he missed a cue where his scene partner had to ad-lib a sputtering bit of dialog (literally he sputtered before the show could grind to a halt).

Regardless, the overall look and feel evoked Disney, fun, and beauty with an underlying sensuality you expect from the costumes (tons of belly dancing garb), desert, and starry skies. I wanted to eat figs under a starry sky in the desert while the vibrant but muted colors of our tents fluttered in the breeze.

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie was perfect. He had one small mis-speak, but yikes when you have as many words to say as he says and have to say them as quickly as he does, I can see how one might make its escape. Regardless, he gave a great ride. Some of his Robin Williams-isms were spot on and made me miss RW all over again. In my opinion, his singing, dancing, and acting were spot on. I loved the way he blasted through the fourth wall. He was so over the top that we couldn't help but join him on his fabulous journey.

Don Darryl Rivera as Iago was also tremendous. I believe they combined two characters into one. The parrot (named Iago) was gone and Abu, the monkey, was played by and as a live actor. He was hilarious, and reminded me a little bit of Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon, if Elder Cunningham had been evil with a capital E.

Aladdin and Jasmine were both pretty good and I'm always happy to see young people get the opportunity to stretch and grow as performers. But I didn't and still don't understand why a Broadway show would have two understudies on a Saturday evening performance. I would imagine that both actors got sick and couldn't do the demanding roles for the day. Otherwise, I would love it if that had not been the case. They both did a fine job, but you could tell that neither was an in-the-pocket on the blocking and some of the singing that the regular cast members would have been. They also lacked a little of the chemistry the regular cast members would likely have had with best friends, ladies-in-waiting, and the Genie himself. They were enjoyable, but both brought me out of the action of the show a couple of times. At one point, poor Kassim had to ad-lib a bunch of splutter when Aladdin missed his cue.

I realize I'm being extremely nit-picky here, but I admit that unless there is something ridiculously terrible happening, I expect Broadway caliber performances at Broadway shows. I had a similar reaction when I saw Kinky Boots a few years ago and Lola was understudied. The gentleman in the role tried, but he was no match for the task at hand. 

Full disclosure: I am a performer. I play music. And I have often said that if an audience wants to see/hear it as perfect, then they should go buy the CD. Most of the time, I stick to that. Having said that, I feel that if an audience is paying hundreds of dollars per ticket, that rule doesn't apply or at least it might be an exception. The understudies should be better rehearsed so that those kinds of missed cues are minimized. Again, I realize I'm being harsh. If this had been a college production, I would have applauded their efforts. But I also would not have been paying hundreds to see the show.

This brings me to the dancing. I must wonder why a show that takes place in ancient Egypt (in the Sahara) and makes use of belly dancing costuming has almost no belly dancing in it. And what little they attempted to have was almost universally poor. Only one of the female dancers seemed to have any ability to dance using the abdominal isolations and movements so critical to good belly dancing. I found it strange because these are trained dancers and when they did other sorts of dancing, they were generally terrific. One of the other dancers was just terrible. She had so little movement or undulation to her trunk that I started wondering if she was injured or something. Also, I want to ponder the choreography. Much of it seemed like it was out of the shtetls of Eastern Europe. It was cool, but it was nowhere near what I expected. I wonder if the choreographer wanted to do more with it but couldn't do the dancing styles and experience of his cast.

Still and all, I enjoyed myself. I stood with the rest of the audience and applauded like crazy because like so many I enjoy the fairytale. I love the splendor of the Broadway musical, and I adore the magic carpet ride. I just wish the technical glitches hadn't happened and the understudies had been better rehearsed.

My reaction to the show can be encapsulated in one instant of it. For the most part, I had a great time at the show, and I was ready to weep openly at my favorite line during the magic carpet ride, "Don't you dare close your eyes." Unfortunately, Aladdin's turban obscured the mic, and the moment was lost. 

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