The North American tour of “Aladdin” could not have kicked off with greater fanfare. Anyone with even passing familiarity with Broadway In Chicago knows well the company’s penchant for decadence but this production resembles what an ambitious producer might do if they discovered a magic lamp of their own. A production worthy of at least a thousand and one nights, “Aladdin” is a wish come true.
Adapted from the Disney classic, composer Alan Menken augments five of his original tunes for the film (including the soaring “A Whole New World”) with new compositions that leave ample room for Casey Nicholaw’s fast-paced direction and athletic choreography. With lyrics from Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin (the latter offering a book with just enough anachronistic asides to tickle the ribs of a crowd that loves its theater in-jokes), the aural elements are matched equally by the elaborate visual components. With sets (Bob Crowley) and costumes (Gregg Barnes) that look like they would have been cheaper to assemble if they were literally made of money, the powerhouses behind the curtain rightfully raise expectations to vertigo-inducing levels for those in front.
And my do they rise.
A charming ensemble of triple threats, the cast of “Aladdin” works hard for their paychecks. From evil (comedic) geniuses Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and Iago (Reggie De Leon) to Aladdin’s affable band of conscientious rogues (Zachary Bencal, Philippe Arroyo and Mike Longo), the cast is an oasis of talent. As the title character, Adam Jacobs has a smile that can be seen from the back rows of the balcony and the charisma to match it. His bride-to-be, Isabelle McCalla, is spunky and spirited though her voice strains occasionally at the limits of its range. Still, it’s nothing a little magic can’t fix: when these two take flight in the show’s sweeping climax the possibilities of theater (particularly the kind with a sultanesque budget) seem positively limitless.
Because this is both Broadway and Disney, “Aladdin” is not without the kinds of problems only money can buy: the codification of romance (“Boy, this mysterious stranger sure is sweet and spontaneous. I should probably marry him!”), the flimsy feminism on parade and the tendency to go light-skinned in the casting of lead and supporting roles, with one very noteworthy exception: Anthony Murphy as Genie. You’d be forgiven for assuming that, despite the whirlwind romance between Al and Jasmine, that this is Murphy’s show in a role that seems specially designed to show off his myriad gifts as an entertainer. Perhaps it’s blasphemous to claim that this indomitable MC gives Robin Williams a run for his money but the real question is: how will Will Smith compare?
Beg, borrow or steal if you have to because this already infinitely rich show is worth every coin it’s sure to make. (Kevin Greene)
Broadway In Chicago at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph, (800)775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com, $44-$153. Through September 10.