Encore Michigan

‘Aladdin’ is a spectacle at Wharton Center

Review December 09, 2019 Bridgette Redman

LANSING, Mich.–The touring production of Aladdin has the type of spectacle that could make Phantom of the Opera blush.

There are fireworks, flying carpets, flashing lights, magic tricks and immense set pieces that change in the blink of an eye. Costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes, sparkle with sequins and glitter on shades of turquoise, lavender and gold.

It’s a pretty show to watch with lots of oohs and ahhs. Beyond the spectacle, however, the show tends to disappoint.

On press night—two nights after they’d moved into the Wharton Center—the energy seemed sporadic. The exception was Jonah Ho’okano’s Aladdin who had a delicious mix of mischief and innocence. He made the most of Casey Nicholaw’s choreography, bounding all across the stage with such energy you believed he could fly with or without the carpet.

 Another standout performer was Reggie DeLeon as Iago, the antagonist’s sidekick, who chewed up the scenery with his cackling and groveling.

By far the most difficult role belong to Korie Lee Blossey as the Genie. He is both narrator and participant and he sets the stage for the showy extravaganza that follows—the big dance numbers, the energetic atmosphere, the humor and the spectacular antics. Most of the time, he was a delight to watch, he had great comedic timing, took advantage of the garb Barnes draped him in and bellowed most fantastically. At other times, though, he was hard to understand as he swallowed the ends of sentences. A few times he seemed winded and was struggling to keep up with the demands of the admittedly very challenging role.

While Kaenaonalani Kekoa did a lovely job as Jasmine, she had very little to work with. The character was flat and one-dimensional. She talked a lot about wanting freedom, but didn’t really do anything to actively change her situation. In the end, Aladdin learns that he cannot depend on Genie and must take courageous steps to determine his own fate, but Jasmine is still the damsel in distress who gets rescued. That said, Kekoa made the most of the material she had. Her voice was brilliant and she made beautiful connections with everyone she was on stage with.

Despite the inconsistencies that compromised the production, there was still a lot of fun and entertainment to be had.

The monkey from the movie has been replaced with three bosom pals—Babkak, Omar and Kassim—who make up a tight-knit gang with Aladdin. They also provide some of the most entertaining dance and fight pieces. Played respectively by Zach Bencal, Ben Chavez and Colt Prattes, they play the role of clowns who are also Aladdin’s conscience and sounding board. And boy, can they dance!

The music is familiar, pulled from the popular Disney movie with songs that have become classic. The audience has to resist singing along with such songs as “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World.” The orchestra carefully supports each mood with lush accompaniment that never overpowers.

It was also encouraging to see the casting of people with diverse body sizes. Even Jasmine’s female attendants did not adhere to the strict wafer-thin body image so often found in musicals. Instead, they included women who were curvy and voluptuous.

Bob Crowley’s scenic design was spectacular and only possible with the huge Disney budget. Each scene had sweeping set pieces that flew in creating palaces, a cave of wonder, marketplaces, and deserts. There was never a moment’s silence between scenes as changes were made with speed.

An intricately designed curtain of Persian design greeted audiences when they arrived at the theater and Natasha Katz gave the first indication of the spectacle to come with her lighting design that turned the curtain into various colors of the rainbow, one right after each other as the orchestra music swelled with the overture. The lighting tricks continue throughout the show and bring especial glimmer to the costumes.

If you go, go for the spectacle, for the extravaganza. Go to be wowed by the dancing, the singing, the music, the costumes and the set. Go because Disney puts on a show with no expenses spared. Just don’t demand a lot from the story.

Week of 6/17/2024

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