By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
Recently, I headed to NYC for a family wedding (Congrats Josh and Emily!).
Before the ceremony, my family and I returned to the New Amsterdam Theatre (for the first time in 12 years) to see Disney’s Aladdin.
Aladdin is one of my all-time favorite Disney films, due to the outstanding score and music from composer Alan Menken and songwriters Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman and the superior voice acting from Jonathan Freeman (Jafar) and the late Robin Williams (Genie). I was ecstatic to learn that Disney Theatrical Productions released the 2011 music adaption of the 1992 animated film and it was heading Broadway in 2014.
Now, here’s a little word of caution for Disney true believers…. while there are some similarities from the musical and the film, the Broadway production has some unique twists that spices up the musical.
I hate to disappoint Abu the Monkey fans, but your favorite monkey is not alongside the titular protagonist this go-around. Instead, Aladdin has THREE sidekicks/best friends, that were originally intended for the 1992 film…. but were cut in favor of Abu. His three sidekicks are Omar, Babkak and Kassim. The trio serves a hybrid between a Greek chorus and Three Stooges-esque tag-alongs that not only help Aladdin with his crazy schemes, but assist him with in escaping palace guards and Jafar’s henchmen. However, if you look closely during the “Prince Ali” number…you might see an albino version of our favorite monkey sidekick.
Another iconic character that received a makeover was Jafar’s sidekick, Iago! If you were expected to see actor covered in head-to-toe red make-up and carrying around a puppet like Zazu in The Lion King, then you were wrong. Instead, audiences would be surprised to see Jafar’s loyal stooge in human form. While pop culture fans could describe Iago’s human form as the love child between Olaf the Snowman and the Carnage Symbiote, the human Iago still has the character’s sinister sarcasm and is definitely one of the characters to watch.
While my family was unable to see Tony-winning actor James Monroe Iglehart nor Adam Jacobs portray Genie and Aladdin, both Donald Jones, Jr. and Joshua Dela Cruz perfectly stepped up to the plate and delighted audiences with their performances. As the Genie, Trevor perfectly took both of the late Robin Williams and Iglehart’s interpretations and perfectly fused them into his take on one of Disney’s most powerful magic practitioners that made the audience smile and laugh. Joshua perfectly brought out the innocent side of Aladdin and was able to make the audience sympathize him as a human being than Agrabah’s resident “Street Rat.”
It was an honor to see legendary theatre actor Jonathan Freeman reprise his role as Jafar live-on-stage. This is the first time that a Disney actor reprised his role on the Great White Way and one of the few times that the Millennial generation will get to see a part of their childhood on the Broadway stage. Mr. Freeman’s voice shook the New Amsterdam Theatre to its core every time he took the stage as Agrabah’s infamous grand vizier turned evil genie.
Other standout actors from the ensemble include Courtney Reed, who beautifully interpreted Jasmine; Brian Gonzales, who brought a Danny DeVito-esque take to Babkak and Don Darryl Rivera, who stole the show as the psychotic Iago.
The creative team that heralded this outstanding production, Casey Nicholaw (Director/Choreographer), Chad Beguelin (Book/Lyrics), Sir Tim Rice (Lyrics), Alan Menken (Music) and the late Howard Ashman (Lyrics), not only brilliantly adapted the Disney film…. but also delivered impeccable show-stopping musical numbers (“Friend Like Me,” “Arabian Nights” & “A Whole New World”) and superb new material such as Jafar’s “Diamond in the Rough” and the heartbreaking ballad “Proud of Your Boy,” which would probably be great audition songs that actors might use when apply for numerous gigs around the world.
Final thoughts & take: Disney’s Aladdin not only rekindles audiences’ love for the citizens of Agrabah, but it also proves that they will never find “Friends Like” Aladdin, the Genie and probably in his own twisted mind: Iago. This is a must-see show that will not only believe in the underdog, but reignite the audiences’ beliefs on the powers of determination, hope and love. Bravo, cast and crew! I cannot wait to see this brilliant show again. A