Friday, 24 April 2015

Aladdin One Year On

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed as Aladdin and Jasmine, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Last month Aladdin celebrated its first anniversary on Broadway and I was lucky enough to be able to return to New York and see the show again.

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the New Amsterdam Theatre is the new entrance way.  Gone is the show logo and in its place is the Cave of Wonders, complete with a magic lamp for guests to rub and make a wish.  It's a great touch and a big improvement that offers guests a little interactivity and a photo opportunity before they enter the theatre.

I'm not going to do a full review of the show itself (you can read my original review here) but I do want to talk about the cast.  Whilst Aladdin has been lucky enough to keep almost all of its principal cast, the last year has seen a few changes in the ensemble and, of course, the arrival of Steel Burkhardt as Kassim.  Steel has done a fantastic job of making the character his own whilst still remaining true to the character the Brandon O'Neill created.  It's a wonderful performance and he works perfectly with Brian Gonzales' Babkak and Jonathan Schwartz's Omar, the trio is as hilarious as ever.  And speaking of the trio, I love the "random high note" line that Brian Gonzales has added to "High Adventure"!

I was blessed to see Trevor Dion Nicholas' show (and Broadway!) debut as the Genie!  If I hadn't been told after that it was his first night I never would have guessed.  He gave a phenomenal performance and got a well earned standing ovation after "Friend Like Me".  He didn't have easy shoes to fill but he rose to the challenge and gave the audience everything they could wish for in a Genie.

I've been wanting to see Merwin Foard since I learned that he was Cassim's singing voice in Aladdin and the King of Thieves (and appeared in lots of other Disney features as well).  I got my wish this time and he did not disappoint.  Merwin's Sultan is a powerful figure with a commanding presence and a delight to watch.  I also got to see Dennis Stowe take on the role of the villainous Jafar and he did a great job.  What I loved most about seeing the standbys and understudies was that none of them simply copied the original performance, they all made the roles their own, adding their own take on the material and their own little embellishments to the parts. It's one of the joys of live theatre, no two performers or performances are completely alike, there's always something new to take in.

One of the most joyous things about seeing Aladdin one year later was just to see how much the cast are loving it.  It seemed that everyone was totally relaxed and comfortable with their characters and were just having fun playing with them every night.  Adam and Courtney remain absolutely perfect as Aladdin and Jasmine, bringing them to life with charm and ease and Don Darryl Rivera somehow manages to get even bigger laughs than I remember as he seemingly revels in Iago's villainly and crazy over the top evil laughs. Seriously, he's hilarious and always manages to get some of the biggest laughs of the night.  He also works so well with Jonathan Freeman's Jafar (Jonathan was back in the second time we saw the show), their stage chemistry is brilliant. The whole production just has an infectious joy to it and in some of the numbers, like the fantastic "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim", you just want to get up and dance (and this is coming from a guy with two left feet). You can't help but leave Aladdin feeling uplifted and that's the real magic and why it remains my favourite show.

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