Review: ‘Aladdin’ at The Kennedy Center

The beloved animated fairy tale jumps off the screen and onto the stage in this high-energy adaptation of the hit Disney film.

Ever since The Lion King took the Broadway world by storm back in 1997, Disney has been recreating its beloved animated films for the stage, with successful runs by The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, and more recently, Frozen. The key to the success of these stage shows is that they remain remarkably true to the original film while also adding nuance that helps the characters grow from one-dimensional fairytale characters into complex storybook friends that evoke real emotion. Aladdin, which opened on Broadway in 2014 (with book by Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Beguelin, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice), stays true to this recipe, and if you take a trip to Agrabah, the fictional Middle Eastern city that is the home to this vibrant and fun-filled story, you’ll find the characters you love have come to life, bringing a few surprises along with them.

Kaenaonalani Kekoa as Jasmine and Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin in the North American tour of Disney's 'Aladdin,' now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Deen van Meer.
Kaenaonalani Kekoa as Jasmine and Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin in the North American tour of Disney’s ‘Aladdin,’ now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The first surprise is that you won’t find a cheeky monkey, sarcastic parrot, or understanding tiger in the stage version of Aladdin. Instead, both Aladdin and Jasmine get a trio of human friends, giving both characters the chance to interact more deeply with other characters and display a wider range of emotions. Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin and Kaenaonalani Kekoa as Jasmine are more than up to the task of bringing these characters to life. Both have beautiful voices that are very reminiscent of the original characters and both have new songs designed to delve into their backstories. Iago (played by Reggie De Leon) still maintains the animated bird’s abrasive personality but now becomes a real sidekick to the evil Jafar (Jonathan Weir), creating a dynamic duo, albeit of the evil kind.

However, the real star of this story has always been the Genie, and from the moment the Genie (exquisitely played by Major Attaway) appears on the Kennedy Center stage you know you are in for a fun-filled theater experience. With a stage presence that blows everyone else out of the water, Major Attaway is the Genie incarnate, fast-talking, bigger than life, full of surprises, and funny as all get out. The many pop culture references that peppered the movie version have even been updated for today’s audiences, so you’ll have to listen closely to catch them all. While the stage show can’t possibly recreate the special effects of an animated film, Attaway’s Genie is more than ready to provide the kind of entertainment you’d expect from someone with “phenomenal cosmic powers,” and the Disney special effects team does not disappoint with plenty of magic tricks to delight the audience.

Another highlight of the production are the fast-moving action scenes in songs like “One Jump Ahead” and “High Adventure,” which somehow manage to capture the madcap frenzy of the movie with expertly choreographed movements and dancing from the formidable supporting cast. Other big production numbers like “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” are impressive, if only because an ensemble of about 20 somehow makes it seem like there are endless numbers of people able to appear at any moment to do the Genie’s bidding. The choreography by Casey Nicholaw, who is also the director, allows the dancers to really show what they can do while also delivering plenty of sword fighting and pratfalls.

As you would expect from a Disney production, everything on stage is beautiful to look at with vibrant jewel-colored costumes and impressive sets that give this production a high-end look. If I had to name one disappointment, it would be the magic carpet. In the film, the carpet has a personality beyond just its ability to fly. Without that personality, the magic carpet ride feels like more of a gimmick—a cool gimmick—but not an integral part of the story.

Finally, I must mention how wonderful the orchestra sounded. Conductor Faith Seetoo leads a combination of the Aladdin Touring Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and the result is a clear and crisp sound that is almost like wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Major Attaway as the Genie performs
Major Attaway as the Genie performs “Friend Like Me” with the ensemble in the North American tour of Disney’s ‘Aladdin,’ now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Make someone’s wish come true and head over to the Kennedy Center to Disney’s Aladdin. Young, old, or in-between, you’ll all be caught in this beautiful production’s magical spell.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Aladdin plays through September 7, 2019, at The Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts–2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or go online.

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