Chicago continues to lure some of Broadway’s biggest hits to its theatres, and “Aladdin” is the latest show to make an extended visit to a Windy City stage.
The North American tour of the Disney musical premiered at the Cadillac Palace Theatre last week, where it will stay for nearly five months. The show transitioned from film to stage with a golden and glittery grandeur that only Disney financial backing could provide. The show leaves its audience exactly as expected — dazzled, but not necessarily floored.
Leading the cast is Adam Jacobs, who brings the infectious, boyish energy of Aladdin directly from the Broadway cast, where he has played the title role since the show opened in 2014. Jacobs’ well-timed wit, deliveries, good looks, charm and mischievous ways created a nearly perfect portrayal of the role. This was made all the more impressive with his rich vocals showcased in composer Alan Menken’s ballads and up-tempo hits.
Joining Jacobs on the magical journey is a fiercely determined Princess Jasmine, played by Isabelle McCalla. While the character certainly embodies many typical Disney princess qualities, mainly the desire to burst beyond the confines of lonely but luxurious palace walls, McCalla has created a praiseworthy, independent Jasmine. The persistence of Jasmine to find an equal partner right for her is complemented with sharp and well-received pro-feminist comments and attitudes. At one point she asks, “What’s wrong with a woman running the kingdom?” which was greeted with eruptive applause from the sold out crowd.
The musical’s comic relief comes in the form of Anthony Murphy’s over-the-top Genie, who never misses a beat in the role. His “A Friend Like Me” number lasts nearly 10 minutes and is complete with a full stage of ensemble dancers performing the high-energy and inventive choreography conjured up by director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, a Disney medley interlude, multiple costume changes (a special kudos to Gregg Barnes for stunning costumes across the board), pyrotechnics and toe-tapping orchestrations — all of which culminated in a mid-show standing ovation from nearly the entire audience.
The show’s best moment, though, comes during the iconic “A Whole New World” magic carpet ride. Bob Crowley’s scenic design smoothly rolls away, exposing Natasha Katz’s stunning night sky lighting design, complete with twinkling lights surrounding the entirety of the stage. As the carpet dips and rises, Jacobs and McCalla offer a slightly more reserved take on Menken’s number. The subtlety of the scene stood out all the more in this show that is otherwise very loud, in every meaning of the word.
In a bejeweled, technologically packed show that works to pull off as many surprises as “Aladdin” does, it’s difficult for all two and a half hours to go off without a single issue. Unfortunately, such was the case with the tour’s opening night production. Several delayed microphone cues, a dancer falling down and a malfunctioning trap column (which left a dancer stranded inside, unable to get out in time to complete her choreography and make her next quick change) are a few of the minor issues that plagued the evening’s performance.
This could, however, all be easily overlooked given what else the show manages to create.
“Aladdin” points out that is best to be our authentic selves; that we don’t need power, money and fancy possessions to be desired and be beautiful. I think the production would’ve been better served taking even the tiniest dosage of its own medicine. These core themes and ideas tend to get lost in the show’s flashier moments.
What you get with this musical is a feel good show filled with a Vegas like spectacle. And for some, this extravagant escape from the real world is exactly what they want. While certainly not Disney’s worst stage adaptation, I also won’t venture to say it’s the group’s best either.
The premiere engagement of “Aladdin” is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph Street) through Sept. 10. Tickets cost $44-$153 and can be purchased at Broadway in Chicago box offices, at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000.