If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen Disney’s 1992 award-winning film “Aladdin” dozens of times: you know the ins and the outs of the “street rat” finding a magic lamp and becoming a prince, just to win the heart of the lovely Princess Jasmine and set his genie free. Honestly, that’s all you need to know for the hit Broadway adaptation of Disney’s “Aladdin.” I was astonished how a classic film could be transformed into something this different yet familiar, and as captivating and astonishing as the hit animated film.
Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) is joined not by his charming animal sidekick, Abu, but instead by his three charming friends Babkak (Zach Bencal), Omar (Philippe Arroyo) and Kassim (Jed Feder); Jafar (Jonathan Weir) loses his bird Iago for a human sidekick (Jay Paranada); and Genie (Michael James Scott) puts on a show within the show that is honestly and genuinely as magical as the show itself. The show as a whole is an incredible homage to the classic film, yet feels and looks so different.
With one of the most intricate sets I have ever seen, I felt like the Academy of Arts was in Agrabah. It isn’t enough that the entire city was perfectly nestled on the tiny stage, but the Cave of Wonders felt like a treasure cave hidden in Philadelphia, and the magic carpet ride was … well, truly magical. The Cave of Wonders featured an eight-minute performance from Genie, ranging from classical singing, to tap dancing, to live magic. If I could praise these two scenes alone I would, but it would be discrediting the entire show’s performance. The two scenes were beautiful and flawless, reminding me even in my 20s that Disney magic is real. I cannot give enough praise to the design of the two scenes.
Not only was the set gorgeous, but the outfits were stunning. Peasants and Sultan alike pranced around in lavish, colourful gowns. And most importantly, Princess Jasmine’s outfit was as true to the original design as possible. Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla) was still the classic Disney Princess that we remember. Her sass, charm and comedic wit felt true to the original character, while pulling in a modern, independant persona. While she and Greenspan had a great relationship on stage, no one was able to top the personality from Michael James Scott’s ability to break the fourth wall, dazzle the audience, and be remarkably captivating.
While it’s almost unfair to compare “Aladdin” to the likes of shows like “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon,” it was unquestionably a once in a lifetime experience. I could never have imagined being so beguiled and blown away by a live adaptation of a Disney film as I was. I know every plot point, twist and resolution, and yet still, I was immersed in a one-of-a-kind show that brought my childhood to life.
“Aladdin” is in Philadelphia through July 1 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and worth every minute.