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updated: 4/20/2017 2:44 PM

Dazzling, high-energy 'Aladdin' soars into Chicago

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  • Broadway veteran Adam Jacobs reprises the titular role he played on Broadway in the national tour of "Aladdin," running through Sept. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Broadway veteran Adam Jacobs reprises the titular role he played on Broadway in the national tour of "Aladdin," running through Sept. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
    Courtesy of Deen van Meer

  • The national tour of the glitzy, exuberant "Aladdin" opened Wednesday at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    The national tour of the glitzy, exuberant "Aladdin" opened Wednesday at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.
    Courtesy of Deen Van Meer

 
 

How are they going to top this?

That was the note I jotted down two-thirds through the first act of Disney's ebullient "Aladdin," the Broadway adaptation of the 1992 Academy Award-winning animated film, which launched its national tour Wednesday at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

The observation came in response to the showstopping, ovation-inducing "Friend Like Me." Performed by the genial Genie (played with gusto by the delectably over-the-top Anthony Murphy) and a spirited, athletic ensemble, the rollicking number -- which was accompanied by magic tricks, bedazzled tap dancers and pyrotechnics -- unfolded on designer Bob Crowley's gilded, grandiose set.

Having pulled out all the stops so early, I wondered what director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw ("The Book of Mormon," "Something Rotten") and his creative team could possibly have in store for the second act.

The answer came in the form of an equally dazzling, moonlit magic carpet ride -- enchanting as any conjured by a Disney animator -- set to the Oscar-winning ballad "A Whole New World." Sweetly sung by Adam Jacobs' Aladdin and Isabelle McCalla's Jasmine, it had the audience cheering.

Anthony Murphy is deliciously larger than life as the Genie in the national tour of "Aladdin," which launched at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Anthony Murphy is deliciously larger than life as the Genie in the national tour of "Aladdin," which launched at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. - Courtesy of Deen van Meer

There is much to applaud in this briskly moving show, beginning with the breezy, Broadway-friendly score. Along with five songs from the film by composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman, it includes additional tunes by lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Chad Beguelin. Along with sly references to "West Side Story" and "Hello, Dolly!" and gentle sendups of Menken-Ashman hits "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid," the show tips its hat to Oprah Winfrey, "Dancing With the Stars" and "Let's Make a Deal."

From Crowley's superb sets and Natasha Katz's lighting to Gregg Barnes' sumptuous, sequined, beautifully embroidered "Arabian Nights"-style costumes to Nicholaw's kinetic choreography, the show's visual delights abound.

Isabelle McCalla plays plucky Princess Jasmine in the national tour of "Aladdin," the musical adapted for the stage from the Oscar-winning 1992 film.
Isabelle McCalla plays plucky Princess Jasmine in the national tour of "Aladdin," the musical adapted for the stage from the Oscar-winning 1992 film. - Courtesy of Deen van Meer

The story centers on the roguish "street rat" Aladdin, a recently reformed thief played by the effortlessly endearing Jacobs. Jacobs, who originated the role on Broadway, possesses a soaring voice befitting a Disney hero as well as the requisite charm, which on several occasions elicited audible "awwws" from the audience.

A kindly criminal, Aladdin gives away his loot to the less fortunate, which irks his partners in crime: the food-obsessed Babkak (Zach Bencal), anxious Omar (Philippe Arroyo) and take-charge Kassim (Mike Longo).

Broadway's glittering, high-energy, thoroughly entertaining "Aladdin" launched its national tour in Chicago this week.
Broadway's glittering, high-energy, thoroughly entertaining "Aladdin" launched its national tour in Chicago this week. - Courtesy of Deen van Meer

Smitten with McCalla's plucky, progressive Jasmine, a forward-thinking princess constrained by royal traditions, Aladdin asks Murphy's genial Genie to make him a prince whom her father, the Sultan of Agrabah (JC Montgomery), will deem an acceptable husband.

Standing in his way is the Sultan's chief adviser Jafar (a nicely villainous Jonathan Weir, a veteran of Writers, Drury Lane and Chicago Shakespeare theaters) and his henchman Iago, played by the very funny, deliciously vicious Reggie De Leon (whose feathered fez is a nod to the character's animated parrot counterpart). Jafar schemes to derail the marriage so he can take over as Agrabah's sovereign in Jasmine's place.

Chicago-area veteran Jonathan Weir (Writers, Drury Lane, Chicago Shakespeare theaters) plays the villainous Jafar in Broadway in Chicago's "Aladdin."
Chicago-area veteran Jonathan Weir (Writers, Drury Lane, Chicago Shakespeare theaters) plays the villainous Jafar in Broadway in Chicago's "Aladdin." - Courtesy of Deen van Meer

The ending, of course, is never in doubt. True love prevails. Soul mates reunite.

It's not perfect. Some of the actors swallow their lyrics and the shtick's a little obvious. But "Aladdin" knows exactly what it is. It's a frothy, feel-good, finely tuned show. Its lessons are simple: Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Be yourself.

There's no topping that advice.

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