Touring production of “Aladdin” delivers a stage full of wonders at Fox Theatre
By CB Adams
When my children were young, back in the days of VHS, I endured countless hours of “Disney’s Aladdin” playing as the main feature (“Sit, Daddy, and watch with me!”) and as background noise while I performed my parental duties (Dad! Quit vacuuming! We’re trying to waaatch!). Even then, the segments featuring Robin Williams as the Genie held up to numerous viewings in the same way I can still watch and rewatch clips of him on the “Tonight Show” or elsewhere without experiencing the law of diminishing return. Like many of his other performances, Williams’s Genie was a tour de force that imprinted that film with a force so majeure that I turned off the Hoover – and only his voice was onscreen.
I didn’t then, nor do not now, much care for the story that knits together Aladdin’s other characters. The Aladdin/Jasmine love story, the bland villainy of Jafar and the father-doesn’t-know-best efforts of the Sultan closely hew to so many other caricaturistic Disney characters that I’m left feeling more than a little meh. The mileage of youngsters will, of course, differ, vary and supersede my own.
But, still, there’s something about that that Genie. It’s all about the Genie. And thus, my evaluation of the success of the stage adaptation hinges on who plays the Genie – and how. In the case of the second touring production (of the 2011 Broadway musical) that flew across the Fox Theatre stage for about as long as a good magic carpet ride (December 12-17), Marcus M. Martin delivers an outsized, turn-it-to-11 performance that deserves its place in some sort of Genie Hall of Fame.
Martin’s performance left me thinking, “Robin Williams, who?” He was antic and frantic, equal parts Falstaff and Madea, with the moves of Fat Albert crossed with a dancer from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Martin has been given most of the best quips and quotes in the show – delivered with the same transgressive brio of Jim Carrey in The Mask: “Somebody stop me!”
Martin could probably work his magic naked on a bare stage, but, of course, that wouldn’t happen with a family-friendly Disney property. So, his performance (and that of all the other characters) was made so much the better and more dazzling thanks to the direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw and costume designs by Gregg Barnes.
This lavish production had a colorful, “spare no expense” sheen throughout, especially the set design by Bob Crowley and projections by Daniel Brodie. A particular standout was the properly monikered Cave of Wonders with so many (and so many clever types of) treasures that would put Smaug’s Lair to shame – all blazingly illuminated by Natasha Katz’s lighting design.
“Aladdin” includes all of the songs of the original film as well as new songs — all beautifully orchestrated by Danny Troob. I was curious to see how the film’s iconic “A Whole New World,” the love ballad between Aladdin (played by an engaging Aaron Choi) and Jasmine (played by an equally engaging Senzel Ahmady), would be presented. In the film, this magic carpet ride high above the city was relatively easy to achieve. The laws of physics don’t apply in animation.
The staged version did not disappoint. Though perhaps not as impressive as the helicopter scene in “Miss Saigon,” this production uses a dark night sky and a meandering, dimly lit mechanical “carpet” upon which the two lovers sing their duet. It was as subtle and beautiful as the Cave of Wonders was brash and brilliant.
Choi and Senzel had a believable chemistry together, as did Aladdin’s gang admirably portrayed by Jake Letts as Babkak, Nathan Levy as Omar and Colt Prattes as Kassim.
“Disney’s Aladdin” ran December 12-17 at the Fox Theatre, 500 North Grand Boulevard.