‘Disney’s Aladdin’ will transport you from TV politics

By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)

In Jewish haredi circles, a common expression is “We want Moshiach now!” With so many eyes glued to TV sets during the recent Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings with testimony from both Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, it might be time for theatre lovers to proclaim “We want the Genie now!”

Trevor Dion Nicholas plays the Genie in Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s stage version of “Aladdin” now on stage at the Saenger Theater. (Photo by Deen van Meer)

While Trevor Dion Nicholas’s portrayal of the Genie in “Disney’s Aladdin” could never truly be compared to that of the Messiah, his over-the-top dancing and singing is magical enough to transport those mired in the mundane machinations of partisan politics to a much happier place.

This is one of the best Disney vehicles ever to grace a stage and mirrors much of what was first seen when the Jewish writing team of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman penned this work for the screen back in 1992 with the late Robin Williams portraying the Genie.  Debuted on stage at the New Amsterdam Theatre four years ago, the production won a Best Tony Award for James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. It consistently shows up in the top three or four shows behind “Hamilton,” “Lion King” or Wicked,” pulling in at least $1.9 million in weekly receipts.

This was the last of the classic animated works from the so-called Disney Renaissance that started with films like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” Ashman died from complications arising from AIDS and Tim Rice, who was already working with Elton John as a lyricist for “The Lion King,” was called in to fill in when Ashman became bedridden and unable to finish the film.

Lissa deGuzman as Princess Jasmine with Clinto Greenspan in the title role of “Disney’s Aladdin.” (Photo by Deen van Meer)

For the stage production that bowed in 2014, book writer Chad Beguelin was brought in to add lyrics to several new Alan Menken pieces, at least one or two of which had been dropped from the film due to space limitations.

Although the leads of Aladdin played by Clinton Greenspan and Princess Jasmine played by Lissa deGuzman do enjoy several solo songs and duets, there is no question that the real star is Trevor Dion Nicholas, who plays the Genie.

In numbers like “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” Nicholas is front and center the man in charge. He dances with the best of the ensemble and prances when it’s necessary, mugging to the audience as he breaks that imaginary “fourth wall.”

Aladdin is also aided in his search for love, fame and fortune by a band of best buds, who are in fact thieves: Babkak, Omar and Kissim. They also have their share of comic pratfalls and choreographed sword fighting, especially in the songs “High Adventure” in Act Two.

The spectacle of “Disney’s Aladdin” with fantastic sets and amazing costumes. (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Also noteworthy are veteran performer Jonathan Weir as the evil vizier Jafar and his henchman Iago played by Jay Paranada for extra comic relief. Jerald Vincent portrays Jasmine’s father, the Sultan with apparent ease.

This production retains most of what was seen in the original cast that is still running on 42nd Street on Broadway. Both on that stage and at the Saenger Theater it is difficult to figure out how the “magic carpet” works in Prince Ali and Princess Jasmine’s love duet. But that’s part of what makes this show so magical. It’s not necessary to understand all that is entailed in this multi-splendored production. Just take it in and enjoy.

With a big orchestra and lots of visual displays and amazing costuming, this production will be here for an extended run. It is sure to transport you and yours to “A Whole New World”… at least for the next 10 days!!!

Disney’s Aladdin” continues at the Saenger Theater, 1111 Canal Street through Sunday, October 7. For tickets click here or call 504-525-1052.

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