Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Aladdin (Broadway)


With petty theft and small-time schemes up his sleeves, street rat Aladdin (Telly Leung) manages to survive every day in the streets of Agrabah. Locked up in her ivory tower and being coerced to marry a prince she barely knows, Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) would give everything to escape from her prison of luxury. When the two cross paths at a busy market, sparks begin to fly, but their difference in social status is a clear indicator that they can never be together. The Sultan’s vizier, Jafar (Dennis Stowe), is hungry for power and would do everything to grab it from the reigning monarch. When he finds out about a magic lamp, he taunts Aladdin to get it for him in the cave of wonders, where he frees a Genie (Major Attaway) who grants him three wishes, one of which is to become a prince so he can pursue the princess. But with a vengeful villain on the way, their happiness is just not guaranteed. Are three wishes enough to grant them a happy ever after?

It’s so tricky to stage a theatrical rendition of a well-beloved classic that has been part of our childhood, what more when the story is so heavy on special effects. Will the limitation of theater as a medium serve as an obstacle to come up with something as spectacular? Aladdin the Musical is proof that theater can offer something different but just as worthwhile. Maximizing what the stage is able to offer in terms of production design, this version succeeds in giving you a sensory overload while feeding your 90’s nostalgia at the same time. The seamless convergence between smoke and hologram guarantees a believable entrance for Genie each time, and those rotating trapdoors help further the illusion as well.

The moving sets make everything more magical AND convenient. Their adjustable height translates to minimal effort when it comes to multitasking. They can be utilized for both background and rooftop scenes. The way they glisten helps establish the prevalent mood in a particular sequence, while lighting also plays a special role with every different hue producing a variation of effects to either reflect a character’s mood or to heighten tension and excitement. The set used for the palace interior also makes you appreciate the intricate details that deem everything more believable. Whoever is in charge of production design should get a bonus for a job well done.

ATTAWAY ROCKS. Giving justice to such an iconic role is a difficult feat given Robin Williams as a precedent, although he had it way easier. Animation simply required him to embody a character through his voice. Onstage, it’s a different story altogether. You can’t just stand there and throw your lines at the audience. You should also be attention-grabbing in terms of physicality. The glittery costume and face paint take care of that, but the charisma and the triple threat treat that Attaway provides is sheer dedication. You must wonder how exhausting a two-hour show can be for him given the demands of such role. And yet he delivers, ad libs and all. Genie is pivotal not just to plot development, but to audience impact as well. Do give him a standing ovation during curtain call. The guy deserves it.

Leung and Reed have palpable chemistry onstage, but their voices are the real scene-stealers here. The singing style veers away from the usual opera that can be rather overwhelming. Instead, they give you a theatrical and more animated take which made the film version so memorable. You’ll surely be singing along with the classics while also admiring the effort exerted in offering new songs made especially for the stage, lending more depth to the characterization of Aladdin and Jasmine. Some fan favorites such as Abu and Rajah are written off to make way for new characters that are more appropriate for a musical onstage.

That magic carpet ride is, well, pure magic. It’s up there with Elphaba’s flying broomstick and the Phantom’s crashing/floating chandelier. Everything about the scene is perfect, and is a good distraction from the song itself. “A Whole New World” has always been popular and for it to stand out in another medium, you must offer something new. The way the palace sets just fade in the background and the dim lighting must be the trick. The carpet appears to be flying on its own indeed, with the stars and giant moon in the background shining, shimmering, splendid alright. Long story short, it’s a moment of theatrical brilliance that will stay in your head every time you reminisce the time you spent in Broadway.

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