Vibrant and energetic, Disney’s “Aladdin” musical — presented by PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh — is nonstop hilarity and heartfelt fun.
While Disney already has a successful animated classic that will remain in the hearts of so many, including my own, the stage version of “Aladdin” stands tall on solid credentials that build well from its predecessor’s base. Any preconceived notion I had about this production quickly disappeared once the actors took the stage at the Benedum Center Thursday night.
The story of “Aladdin” follows the titular character — played by Clinton Greenspan — on his quest to become more than just a dirty, thieving street rat. One fateful day he meets Princess Jasmine — played by Lissa deGuzman — in disguise and running away from a life of forced royal marriage. The two quickly connect.
They are forced to separate once he is caught by the guards, but Royal Vizier Jafar — respectfully portrayed by Jonathan Weir — plans to use the boy to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in a mystical cave in the desert that only Aladdin can enter. Plans go south, however, when Aladdin fails to snatch the lamp from a room full of treasures and is trapped by rockfall.
He is rescued by the Genie who lives in the lamp jaar sought. The Genie is a truly hilarious character mastered by Morgantown native Trevor Dion Nicholas. With the Genie’s magic, Aladdin can become a prince and reunite with his true love.
The outstanding MVP of the show was Nicholas’ Genie, who steals the crowd the second he appears onstage. Drawing almost constant laughs from the audience thanks to his quirky dance moves and sly pop culture references, he possesses a jubilant personality and acts similarly to a stand-up comedian or talk-show host, interacting with the audience several times amidst the performance.
Nicholas originated the role of Genie in the London West End production of “Aladdin” and his exuberant presence on stage truly shows this talent. He made the role his own and every time he performs, he is positively electric.
While it may come to mind that this Genie is no Robin Williams — who died in 2014, a few months after the Broadway show premiered — neither the character nor the actor steps on his toes, and instead creates a modern performance that Williams himself would be proud of.
From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is treated to a stunning visual and auditory spectacle. Brilliantly designed and brightly colored costumes catch the eyes of spectators as they dance around the stage. The Genie and a talented ensemble bring us into the magical, fictional city of Agrabah with the sweeping opening song “Arabian Nights.”
The music of the show is upbeat and powerful, filled with rhythmic percussion and persistent trumpets, but also holds a great deal of emotion for the softer character songs. It’s nearly impossible not to sway to the rhythm or even sing along as the melodies go on.
The dynamic choreography for the ensemble songs will take your breath away with each flip, high kick and ball change. As the setting takes place in the Middle East, a good amount of the choreography draws from Middle Eastern dancing styles.
The show’s design features various colorful sets, costumes and special effects defying expectation. The set of Agrabah is inventive, moves around fluidly to accommodate the scene and is backlit by a bright gradient of colors of a stunning sunset variety. The Cave of Wonders and its accompanying showstopping musical number “Friend Like Me” are dazzling with bright gold pillars, disco lights and even pyrotechnics.
All of the costumes are vibrant and rich, showing off a wide range of color and detail. Princess Jasmine and the Genie’s costumes in particular are made of bright blues and woven with crystals.
There are several noticeable changes from the movie to the musical. There are fewer animals and not much is missed from their absence. Iago, played by Jay Paranada, is no longer a wisecracking parrot, but Jafar’s groveling lackey — yet he is no less funny as a human who revels in being a bloodthirsty villain.
Jasmine now has three supportive attendants who sing and dance with her as she goes through life as a princess —played by Olivia Donalson, Liv Symone and Annie Wallace — rather than her pet tiger Rajah.
Similarly, Aladdin’s monkey partner Abu is replaced by three new characters — Babkak, Kassim and Omar— played by Zach Bencal, Jed Feder and Phillipe Arroyo, a Carnegie Mellon alum, respectively. All three of them are charming and funny and serve as much better partners in crime and friends for Aladdin. If you can’t remember their names, don’t worry — there’s a catchy song for that.
Several other new songs were added to the musical, including ones that were cut from the movie. “Proud of Your Boy,” “A Million Miles Away” and “High Adventure” are a few that make themselves right at home with the rest of some beloved tunes such as “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”
“A Whole New World” takes the audience along with Aladdin and Jasmine into what looked like diamond sky, illuminating the stage with glittering, swirling stars and a bright blue moon. The sky never stays the same color, beginning with blazing oranges and reds and changing from bright blues to deep violet and indigo, including a few soft pink shadows preempting another fiery sunset. Like the musical, they will entrance you throughout.
“Aladdin” is running until Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Benedum Center, located in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. For more information about tickets and pricing, visit trustarts.org.