SALT LAKE CITY — It was Aladdin, street rat, thief with a heart of gold and title character of the latest Broadway touring company production to make a temporary home at the Eccles Theater, who perhaps summed up the show best: "Not pretty — beautiful."
It happened that he was speaking of his true love Princess Jasmine, but there is no shying away from the fact that the musical that bears his name is a feast for the eyes.
Currently enjoying a successful run on Broadway — where “Aladdin” picked up five Tony nominations and one win — this glitzy, razzle-dazzle stunner, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is packed (almost to the point of bursting) with show-stopping numbers and corny jokes.
Like the 1992 Disney film, the musical follows the rags-to-riches tale of Aladdin, the impoverished good-time guy who falls in love with Jasmine, the ahead-of-her-times princess in the fictional Arabian kingdom of Agrabah. Clinton Greenspan certainly looked the part of the unlikely hero Friday night, with his tangle of dark curls and his sweet tenor voice well conveying a young man struggling to discover himself — especially in the tender song "Proud of Your Boy." It also helped that he and Kaenaonālani Kekoa, in the role of Jasmine, had genuine onstage chemistry, and that Kekoa's powerhouse vocals matched her character's independent spirit.
Thanks to the part originally voiced and embedded with frenetic life by the late, wonderful Robin Williams, "Aladdin" has two sections: B.G. and A.G. — Before Genie and After Genie. Stepping into a role made famous by Williams is likely daunting for any actor, but happily for this touring production, Major Attaway lived up to both his marvelous name and the part's reputation.
In B.G., the actors kept things moving along nicely, with Aladdin, his three pals Babkak, Omar and Kassim (played by Zach Bencal, Ben Chavez and Colt Prattes, respectively) and later, Jasmine, running and dancing with the ensemble through the busy marketplace. Scenic designer Bob Crowley created a color-saturated stage world where brightly hued scarves floated through the air as the dancers swirled and swayed, and men in satin pantaloons danced with silver swords.
And just when it seemed things couldn't get any lovelier in Agrabah, Aladdin found himself in the Cave of Wonders to steal a magic lamp, finding a Broadway extravaganza fit for Bob Mackie.
If you remember the tale, the Sultan, played with cheerful daftness by Jerald Vincent, employs a bad news grand vizier named Jafar (Jonathan Weir) and his toady sidekick Iago, played for laughs by Reggie De Leon. Jafar wants the magic lamp so he can rule the kingdom and, on a tip from his magic book, sends Aladdin to get it for him.
Once released from his "itty-bitty little living space" inside the lamp, Attaway's Genie burst onto the stage with jokes that made the adults in the audience chuckle and enough sparkle (in an already sparkling production) to make the whole theater grin. Rather than attempting to impersonate Williams, Attaway made Genie his own, giving him just the right amount of sass and heart to make this magical creature relatable. In his hit number "Friend Like Me," he presided over throngs of glittering dancers in a set gilded with so much gold the pyrotechnics that shot out at the end of the scene were hardly a surprise. If you're on the fence about getting a ticket to "Aladdin," this number makes the ticket price worth it.
The musical's second half couldn't quite compete with the razzmatazz of the Cave of Wonders, but the beauty on stage never really slowed, especially during "A Whole New World," when Jasmine and Aladdin soared "through an endless diamond sky" on a flying carpet set against glowing stars and a giant blue planet.
Gregg Barnes' costumes deserved as much of the production's final standing ovation as did the hard-working actors. No bodice was jewel-free on his watch, and the men were just as gorgeously arrayed as the women, in sumptuous colors and fabrics.1 comment on this story
At two hours and 30 minutes, Friday night's production of "Aladdin" packed in more of everything: More energy, more sparkles, more hit songs, more jokes (some good, some bad) and even, if not more than, the right amount of important messages. Being yourself, Aladdin learned, is better than being a prince (unless you're already a prince), and being free is better than servitude, learned Jasmine and Genie. They may not be earth-shattering lessons, but in "Aladdin," they are delivered in a whole shining, shimmering splendid new world.
Content advisory: "Aladdin" contains a few belly buttons, but the production is largely suitable for all ages.