Pure ge­nie-us: ‘Aladdin’ on­stage will rub you the right way

Broad­way’s ver­sion of the Dis­ney movie is a treat for adults, kids

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - THE­ATER RE­VIEW ELYSA GARD­NER

ALADDIN

New Am­s­ter­dam Theatre Star­ring: Adam Ja­cobs

NEW YORK It’s safe to say that no Broad­way per­former is burn­ing more calo­ries a sec­ond than James Mon­roe Igle

hart does in Friend

Like Me, an eight­minute joyride in Act 1 of Aladdin.

You may rec­og­nize the song from the 1992 an­i­mated movie on which this new mu­si­cal, which opened Thurs­day, is based.

In the film ver­sion, Friend is sung by Robin Wil­liams, voic­ing the role of the ge­nie who comes to our tit­u­lar hero’s aid, at his most breath­lessly ebul­lient. It’s an act that would be im­pos­si­ble to re­pro­duce, so Igle­hart, abet­ted by di­rec­tor/chore­og­ra­pher Casey Ni­cholaw, sim­ply tops it.

By the end of the num­ber — which in­cludes a game-show seg­ment and a med­ley of tunes from other Dis­ney mu­si­cals — Igle­hart’s ge­nie is deliri­ously huff­ing and puff­ing; the au­di­ence, which re­ceived it at a re­cent pre­view with a stand­ing ova­tion, is just as giddy.

If Dis­ney The­atri­cal’s lat­est pro­duc­tion doesn’t sus­tain that fren­zied high through­out, it de­liv­ers a rush that may sur­prise folks who at­tend ei­ther as chap­er­ones or to re­live their own youths.

Ni­cholaw and li­bret­tist Chad Beguelin use ob­vi­ous jokes and ref­er­ences, but they’re de­liv­ered with such glee­ful savvy that you sus­pend skep­ti­cism and dive right in.

There are un­ex­pect­edly, win­ningly un­der­stated touches as well, among them a lovely pre­sen­ta­tion of Alan Menken and Tim Rice’s A Whole New World. The magic car­pet car­ry­ing Adam Ja­cobs’ spry, en­dear­ing Aladdin and his love in­ter­est, Court­ney Reed’s charm­ingly no-non­sense Princess Jas­mine, re­mains dimly lit as Ni­cholaw keeps the em­pha­sis on their ten­der chem­istry and ro­bust voices.

The score also fea­tures jazzy tunes and a pin­ing bal­lad writ­ten for, but not in­cluded in, the movie — com­posed by Menken, with lyrics by the late Howard Ash­man — and new songs by Menken and Beguelin, whose words here draw some in­spi­ra­tion from Ash­man’s play­ful wit and poignance.

They’re heartily sung by a cast that in­cludes a juicy Jonathan Free­man, repris­ing his film role as Ja­far, the con­niv­ing con­trol freak who tries to thwart Aladdin.

Ja­far fails, of course, so that Igle­hart’s daz­zling ge­nie gets to de­clare, “I just love a happy end­ing!” Even the most jaded ob­servers will, again, share in his enthusiasm.

CYLLA VON TIEDE­MANN, DIS­NEY THE­ATRI­CAL PRO­DUC­TIONS, VIA AP James Mon­roe Igle­hart puts his own magic into the ge­nie.

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