USA TODAY US Edition
Pure genie-us: ‘Aladdin’ onstage will rub you the right way
Broadway’s version of the Disney movie is a treat for adults, kids
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.