Review: Broadway in Austin’s Disney’s Aladdin

Poster child for Broadway's Disneyfication still crazy entertaining

Marcus Martin as the Genie with members of the ensemble in the North American tour of Disney’s Aladdin (Courtesy of Broadway in Austin)

Like so many other animated screen-to-stage musicals created by Disney since the 1994 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast for Broadway, the story that drives Disney’s Aladdin has a much older soul – its original source material is a medieval Persian folk tale – that’s been sanitized, white-washed, and turned to saccharine.

This show, like the others of its ilk, also boasts of supersaturated stagecraft, including larger-than-life Vegas-style production numbers that are so visually stunning that they leave the children in attendance looking shell-shocked by evening’s end, as numbed by the late hour as the full-frontal assault of musical theatre they’ve just encountered. They also leave with unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for what constitutes a Broadway musical, while the adults who accompany them leave dazed and confused from the high ticket prices they’ve been asked to pay to off-set the show’s big budget and those of less successful ventures.

And yet, Disney’s Aladdin is one helluva entertaining production. I mean crazy entertaining.

On tour as it was on Broadway, Bob Crowley’s scenic design is visually ravishing, what with its colorful swirling silks, shining sequins, layers and layers of scenery, and majestic, dimensional backdrops dramatically lit by Natasha Katz. Circumventing the layers of fly-in scenery and set pieces is an abundant supply of Casey Nicholaw’s eye-candy choreography, performed in Gregg Barnes’ spectacular midriff-baring and bedazzled costuming by a hard-bodied and hard-working ensemble under Nicholaw’s direction.

Oh, and there’s a magic carpet ridden by Aladdin (a dynamic Adi Roy) and Jasmine (Senzel Ahmandy, sounding and acting every bit the archetypical Disney Princess) that flies across a moonlit star-filled sky during the song “A Whole New World” that defies explanation. It’s a lot to take in, particularly if you are simultaneously trying to rationalize how damn good you feel watching this show with what you feel about the whole Disneyfication thing.

It’s also a lot to perform and, quite frankly, the very busy ensemble seemed a bit shell-shocked themselves upon taking the Bass Center Hall stage after four months on the road with short stays in lots of cities and the long travel in between. Out of the gate, their performances were lackluster and rote. So was the early work turned in by Colt Prattes, Ben Chavez, and Jake Letts, who play Aladdin’s buddies and provide much of the comedy throughout the show. Also problematic was the poor sound mixing, which is typical of the opening nights of touring shows. It allowed the talented orchestra under James Dodgson’s baton to drown out much of the singing and dialogue which, in turn, called undue attention to Alan Menken’s occasionally inspired but largely forgettable score, which made it hard to get lost in the musical.

But then things kicked in bigtime, spearheaded by the spectacular performances of Dwelvan David and Marcus Martin. David, who is the standby substituting for the actor normally featured as the dastardly Jafar, took full advantage of this opportunity. Martin, who owns the role of Genie, owned the audience as well with his unlimited energy and an originality that easily exorcised anything Robin Williams (from the film) or James Monroe Iglehart (from the original Broadway production) brought to the role.

Of all the bells and whistles offered by this production, it was David and Martin that stole the show.

Broadway in Austin’s Disney’s Aladdin Bass Center Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, 512-471-2787, Through Feb. 19 Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

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