To add some needed pizzazz to its attendee-challenged California Adventure theme park, the folks at Disney are relying on an eye-popping flying carpet and a zany Robin Williams-like hipster genie. Housed in the park’s immense faux grand opera house Hyperion Theater, this “Aladdin” features a 50-member cast, 250 costumes, 18 scene changes and a life-size elephant puppet, all stuffed into 40 minutes. The canned orchestrations and miked-to-the-max onstage voices do not convey much sincere human interaction, but the inventive, effects-laden staging of helmer Francesca Zambello and choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett certainly evokes the “Arabian Nights” wonder of the 1992 animated pic. Free to park attendees, the show is designed to run four times daily and should do much to bolster the Anaheim theme park’s undernourished coffers.
A five-member team of scripters has reduced the film’s plot down to its bare essentials. Power-voiced Narrator (Jamila Ajibade) sets the scene as the nefarious Jafar (Jonathan Peck) schemes with his wise-cracking parrot, Iago (puppet-wielding Ron Buttler), to steal the all-powerful magic lamp from the monolithic Cave of Wonders, the first in a series of breathtaking sets wrought by Tony winner Peter J. Davison (“Copenhagen”). Of course, street urchin Aladdin (Michael K. Lee) gets there first and, with the help of the lamp’s inhouse genie (Nick Santa Maria) and a pixie-ish Magic Carpet (Adealani Malia), Aladdin is soon flying off to woo and win the love of the comely Princess Jasmine (Deedee Magno).
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The slim storyline hangs on a series of grand production numbers. Tony-nominated choreographer Taylor-Corbett (“Swing”) instills a cornucopia of gymnastic virtuosity into Aladdin’s marketplace adventures (“One Jump Ahead”) and elevates Genie’s anthem, “A Friend Like Me,” into a Ziegfeld Follies spectacular, complete with lighted staircase.
The most magical number has to be “A Whole New World,” highlighted by a flying carpet ride that has Aladdin and Jasmine not only whizzing high above the stage, but over the audience as well, thanks to the wizardry of technical director Earle Greene. Also impressive is the over-the-top arrival of Genie-enhanced Aladdin in the guise of princess-courting “Prince Ali,” riding atop an awe-inspiring pachyderm.
The only introspective moment in the show is provided by composer Alan Menken, who has added a new tune to the score, “To Be Free,” sung with an appealing purity by Magno’s Jasmine. Lee’s Aladdin also displays impressive vocal and terpsichorean credentials as he evades a slew of swordsmen in the show-opening “One Jump Ahead” and with the soaring love ballad “A Whole New World.”
The main comic relief is provided by Santa Maria’s motor-mouthed Genie, who does his best to emulate the off-the-cuff zingers of his animated predecessor, voiced by Robin Williams. His contemporary asides usually hit their mark, culminated by the Genie’s vanquishing of Jafar with a dismissive “You’ve been voted off the island.” Loose-limbed Malia is also comically impressive as the petlike Magic Carpet.
Peck is properly villainous as Jafar and displays his vocal chops with the gleeful “He Who Holds the Lamp.” Buttler’s Iago is more understated than in the animated pic but still manages to garner some laughs.