By Kimberly Rau
Aladdin, currently running at the Providence Performing Arts Center, may be Disney’s prettiest stage musical, with jaw-dropping sets in a rich color palette perfectly setting every scene, but more than that, it’s a straight-up fantastic show for anyone able to sit still for two and a half hours.
In short, Aladdin is about a beggar in ancient (fictitious) Agrabah who manages to capture the heart of Princess Jasmine. Problem: He’s not a prince. Solution: It turns out he is the only one who can find the lamp that summons a genie who can help him. Bigger problem: The evil people in the palace who are hungry for the throne really, really do not want him to succeed. Fairy Tale Ending: but of course.
There are several key differences from the 1992 animated classic (Abu the monkey and Rajah the tiger are not characters, Iago has turned into a scampering sycophant reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast’s Lefou) and there a bunch of new songs, but the story is the same fun, romantic romp you remember. In some ways, it may be even better.
The movie has some pretty intense scenes that, on stage, may have made things too scary for younger audiences. Disney has circumvented this by keeping Jafar just as evil and menacing, but adding levity to some moments and removing others entirely (the giant snake Jafar turns into in the animated version is gone; instead, a truly impressive costume change denotes his transitions from advisor to sultan to genie). Abu may be no more, but instead, Aladdin has three sidekick friends (Babkak, Omar and Kassim) who are anything but cookie cutter. The change is major, but it works.
As far as the cast, both Jonah Ho’okano (Aladdin) and Kaenaonalani Kekoa (Jasmine) are exactly what you would want and expect from such iconic characters. Kekoa has a light, pretty voice that’s still powerful. Ho’okano does a fantastic job with the balled “Proud of Your Boy,” where he promises his dead parents that somehow, he’ll make something of himself. “A Whole New World,” which includes some mystifying stage magic, is perfect thanks to this pair. Korie Lee Blossey as the genie has great comic timing and a knack for impressions (pretty much pre-requisites for the role), dance skills and a booming singing voice. During the big production number “Friend Like Me,” there were moments it seemed the intense movement combined with vocal demands were wearing on Blossey, but things still finished strong. And Jerald Vincent and Patrick R. Brown as the Sultan and Jafar, respectively, also have impressive voices. Brown gets a few good solos, but unfortunately, we don’t hear nearly enough of Vincent. And Reggie de Leon as Iago is as good a fall guy as it gets. You couldn’t ask for more from anyone, lead or ensemble.
This is possibly the most family-friendly musical that has come through PPAC in recent years. Disney fans, children and children at heart will be swept away on this magical ride.
Aladdin runs through Nov. 10 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence, RI. Tickets are available at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787.