Adam Jacobs as AladdinEXPAND
Adam Jacobs as Aladdin
Deen Van Meer

Aladdin Has Visual Spectacle to Spare but Lacks Heart

If a glittery, sumptuous spectacle is enough to satisfy you, you’ll probably enjoy this touring company production of Disney's Aladdin, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, at the Pantages Theatre through March 31. If, however, you’re one of those picky theatergoers who craves substance with your spectacle, you'll probably be disappointed.

Based, with moderate revisions, on Disney’s 1992 animated film, the show features Adam Jacobs — who originated the lead role back in 2011 — as a contemporized Aladdin, an impoverished young grifter whose life isn’t going much of anywhere until he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla). Whereas Aladdin is incarcerated by his poverty, the rich and materially pampered princess is captive to the demands of her royal status, which mandate that she marry a prince. She’s already rejected all of the eligible men her father the Sultan (JC Montgomery) has brought before her; chafing at the confines of the palace walls, she steals away to the town marketplace, where she encounters Aladdin, who rescues her from a villain.

Before he meets Jasmine again, Aladdin is hoodwinked by the story’s evil villain, the Grand Vizier Jafar (Jonathan Weir), into venturing into the "Cave of Wonders" to procure for him a lamp with great magical powers – the means by which Jafar intends to seize the sultanate for himself. But the rules of destiny bar him and his assistant, Iago (Reggie De Leon, no longer a parrot), from entering the cave. Aladdin, eluding their designs, himself gains possession of the lamp and access to the powerful genie (Michael James Scott) who resides within it. He and the genie navigate some misadventures and misunderstandings, but in the end, they both get what they want — Aladdin his princess and the genie his long-yearned-for freedom.

Michael James Scott as the Genie in Aladdin at the Pantages
Michael James Scott as the Genie in Aladdin at the Pantages
Deen Van Meer

A make-believe tale like this isn’t supposed to be deep, some would say, and should be taken for the frivolous bit of entertainment it was designed to be. But even a depthless story needs truth and a bonding relationship to make it resonate. In this case, a canned lead performance (it seems as if Jacobs has been doing this role for too long) and an equally lackluster one by McCalla put a damper on any magic from the get-go. The sparks between these two lovers do not fly, even as the duo sail above the proscenium on their magic carpet, warbling their romantic duet. As the scheming baddie, Weir gives a capable performance, nothing memorable. It’s left for Scott as the jive, clownish and somewhat fey genie to emotionally connect to the audience — but even here it’s a too visibly crafted performance, not a fluid one.

The music — score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin — isn’t anything you’ll carry home with you; only the classic “A Whole New World” and a second ballad, “A Million Miles Away,” linger in the mind after the show is over. In some numbers, especially those with an element of swing, the instrumentals (musical direction: Brent-Alan Huffman) seem to dominate the vocals. Beguelin’s book, punctured with lame riffs and stale gags, is a major annoyance throughout.

Bob Crowley’s diverse and extravagant sets — especially the grand, intricate labyrinthine cave and his expansive nighttime sky — truly are a feast for the eye, while Gregg Barnes’ costumes are exotic and colorful and the hues in Natasha Katz’s lighting design are rich and lovely. The problem is that all these elements in tandem frequently overtake the performances of the actors, who are tasked with propelling a weak, none-too-clever narrative.

Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood; through March 31;  https://www.hollywoodpantages.com/events/detail/disneysaladdin

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