REVIEW: ‘Aladdin’ Soars High on Spectacle, Substance at Peace Center

Kaena Kekoa (Jasmine) & Jonah Ho’okano (Aladdin). Photo by Deen van Meer

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Aladdin, now playing at the Peace Center through Feb. 23, soars beyond the stars and past any preconceived expectation one would hope for a live Disney musical – the high-flying magic carpet where the illusion is completely masked in darkness, the 337 magnificently detailed costumes handcrafted from 2,039 fabrics and trims, the fire effects, the spectacular lighting, two dozen tap dancers, the beautiful score, and that Cave. Oh, that breathtaking Cave of Wonders.

And to top it all off, an explosive, high-octane and vehemently diverse cast that gloriously brings to life the 1992 animated film. Led by the charming and debonair Jonah Ho’okano as the mischievous street kid who rubs a magic lamp that unleashes a fast-talking Genie, played on this national tour by Korie Lee Blossey. And like his A-List celluloid predecessors (Robin Williams in 1992 and Will Smith in 2019), Blossey is ebullient and firm in personality and his craft. stealing every scene and even encourages the audience’s devotion to him.

Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights (itself based on an ancient Chines folk tale), Aladdin is set in the fictional melting pot city of Agrabah whose Sultan (Jerald Vincent) is running out of patience (and time) with his insolent daughter Jasmine (Kaenaonālani Kekoa) and her disdain for all of the royal suitors.

When Aladdin meets a disguised Jasmine at a street market and falls in love, he uses one of the Genie’s three wishes to transform him into a prince and marry Jasmine.

Enter the villain Jafar (a perfectly sinister Jonathan Weir) and his sidekick Iago (Reggie De Leon) to derail that plan by stealing the lamp with intentions of marrying the princess and rule Agrabah.

Premiering in 2011, the live version of Aladdin does differ some from the animated film.

Most notably is the exclusion of Abu the talking monkey. The book by Chad Beguelin resurrects the original concept for the first Disney film which featured three human pals for Aladdin instead of a tri-character composite monkey: the eternally-hungry Babkak played by Zach Bencal, Omar (Ben Chavez) and Kassim (Colt Prattes).

The score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim rice and Howard Ashman includes all of the five songs from the film including the Oscar-wining love-theme “A Whole New World” during the magic carpet ride, and the Genie’s hilarious 8 -minute number “A Friend Like Me.”

Four new songs penned by Menken and Beguelin were created for this show, and, in a tribute to Ashman who died in 1991 of AIDS, three originally-shelved numbers were resurrected: Aladdin’s somber “Proud of the Boy” and two written for Aladdin’s friends “High Adventure” and “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim.”

Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Something Rotten!), this musical boasts an incomparable design team, with sets, costumes and lighting from Tony Award winners Bob Crowley (Mary Poppins), Gregg Barnes (Kinky Boots) and Natasha Katz (An American in Paris).

And though the show features more “skin” than most Disney productions, Aladdin – it’s story, spectacle, romance and humor – will appeal to all.

Disney’s Aladdin runs through February 23 at the Peace Center, 300 S. Main St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 467-3000 or visit peacecenter.org.

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