Story: Aladdin, an orphan who lives by his wits on the streets with comrades Babkak, Omar and Kassim, falls in love with Jasmine, the beautiful and eligible princess daughter of the Sultan of Agripa, when she ventures out one day from the palace into the city. Jafar, evil advisor to the Sultan, learns about their romance and plots to capture Aladdin and imprison him after first convincing the latter to find a fabled magic lamp that Jafar covets in order to rule the kingdom.
Aladdin does indeed come upon such a lamp in the Cave of Wonders on the outskirts of town. When he rubs it, a genie pops out and informs Aladdin that he will grant the street urchin three wishes, within certain guidelines. Will Aladdin win the favor of Jasmine while masquerading as a prince from another kingdom? Will the genie deliver on his promises to Aladdin? Will Jafar get his hands on the lamp and usurp the royal throne? Stay tuned.
Highlights: Walt Disney Productions based its 1992 animated blockbuster Aladdin on the ancient Middle Eastern tale of the same name that is included in the collection of stories titled One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). A new musical version of the Disney adaptation premiered in 2011 in Seattle, with two new productions being performed in 2012, one in Utah and the newest at The Muny.
In the grand tradition of The Muny’s annual children’s show, Aladdin is filled with pageantry, comedy and a treasure trove of songs and dance numbers. From the moment that Aladdin’s three pals appear on stage on the backs of three actual camels to the arrival of the manic Genie, who makes his way through the aisles en route to his grand entrance on stage, this version of Aladdin is family-friendly and geared to impress children of all ages.
Other Info: Chad Beguelin’s book provides plenty of opportunities for groans by the occasional craggy adult until one remembers that this show really is for the kids, and that’s fine. Certainly, under Gary Griffin’s creative and clever direction, Aladdin is a charming and entertaining evening filled with colorful characters, sumptuous costuming (by designer Mara Blumenfeld) and some wonderfully evocative sets designed by Michael Anania, including an imposing blue tiger adorning the entrance to the Cave of Wonders, that set the mood for this upbeat presentation.
Those sets are bathed in handsome lighting designed by Seth Jackson and often are filled with an array of fanciful dances imaginatively choreographed by Alex Sanchez. The sprawling dance numbers are ably performed by the athletic cast as well as The Muny Youth Ensemble, whose genuine delight shows clearly when they partake in such spectacles.
Savvy composer Alan Menken has added several new tunes to his original score, with accompanying lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin. The Muny’s presentation is aided by Greg Anthony’s sprightly musical direction as well as Jason Krueger’s supplemental sound design.
The show features numerous musical highlights, starting with the amusing opening number, Arabian Nights, as sung by Aladdin’s (or “Al,” as they call him) pals Babkak, Omar and Kassim. That trio, played with flair and bright comic appeal by Eddie Korbich, Jason Graae and Muny favorite Francis Jue, respectively, guides the audience in the telling of this tale, often breaking the fourth wall to engage in silly banter.
Also crashing through that wall outrageously, as you would expect, is John Tartaglia as the antic Genie. Like the notable performance in the movie by Robin Williams, this Genie is a motor-mouth high on energy and silliness, and without a doubt the recipient of the lion’s share of applause on opening night. Tartaglia is nimble and witty throughout, although he doesn’t need to try so hard to emulate Williams. His own abilities are sufficient to fill the larger-than-life role, as capably demonstrated on the rollicking Friend Like Me number.
Robin de Jesus is an appealing and affable Aladdin, or “The man with a vest and no shirt” as the Genie describes him, working best with his trio of colleagues on the aptly named Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim piece. He plays nicely off of former Muny Ensemble member Samantha Massell, who effectively plays the determined Princess Jasmine, especially on numbers such as their dreamy ballad, A Million Miles Away.
Another Muny stalwart, Ken Page, amply essays the role of the Sultan with his booming voice, flummoxed by his headstrong daughter’s desire to live life her way. Thom Sesma takes great delight in concocting nefarious schemes as the villainous Jafar, while Curtis Holbrook is engaging as the advisor’s loyal and long-suffering parrot aide de camp, Iago.
While this musical version of Aladdin is fine-tuned for an eventual trip to Broadway, it’s certain to please tykes at future performances as much as it did on opening night at The Muny. Adults may groan at some of the antics and dialogue, but there’s no denying that the genie is out of the bottle and working magic.
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: July 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Tickets: From free to $70; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Larry Pry/The Muny