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Concert Reviews:
"Disney's Aladdin" brings the magic of Arabian nights to Detroit Opera House

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2018

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Taking iconic works from screen to stage is a tricky business -- and something Disney has learned to do very well.

So it's not surprising that "Disney's Aladdin," at the Detroit Opera House through Jan. 13, follows in the footsteps of adaptations of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" in capturing the magic of their movie predecessors with enough new wrinkles to make it dazzle like, well, a Disney movie, but in the flesh.

On stage the Tony Award-nominated "Aladdin" is a delightful romp with plenty of kitsch and a lightning-quick script that fires quips, one-liners and dad jokes in a dizzying -- and occasionally too fast -- assault of self-referential humor. It's a show that's well aware of its famous predecessor and chooses to celebrate that fact rather than side-step it.

And rest assured it's all about the Genie. Robin Williams, of course, set a high bar with his manic voice portrayal in the 1992 film. On stage at the Opera House, without any animated trickery to enhance his performance, Michael James Scott conveys the same energy but makes his Genie a cross of Oprah and RuPaul with a flamboyant delivery, a 1,000-watt smile and an engaging propensity for breaking the wall between cast and audience. He's the first thing we see, introducing us to the fictional Agrabah, and any time he's on stage "Aladdin" elevates like the magic carpet that takes Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan, literally working up a sweat throughout the show) and Jasmine (Lissa deGusman) on their romantic ride during "A Whole New World."

Yes, there's a magic carpet -- and lots more in the massive "Aladdin" production. The sets, from the facile streets of Agrabah to the glittering Cave of Wonders, are transportive. But they never obscure the humanity of the show and the physical dynamics of the well-toned cast, which Genie boasts has, collectively, "zero body fat." "Friend Like Me," for instance, is a sizzling, sharply choreographed wonder with scores of costume quick-changes, well-deployed visual "tricks" and pyrotechnics -- and a mash-up of song snippets from other Disney classics. "Prince Ali" is almost as good, another blink-and-you'll-miss-it adventure that gets "Aladdin's" second act off to a roaring start.

Also highlighting the show is Aladdin's posse, a trio (Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, Jed Feder) that replaces the monkey Abu as the title character's running buddy and Greek chorus of conscience -- and also get some of the show's best pun. Their swashbuckling "High Adventure" is a welcome addition to the story (one of several by original composer Alan Menken) that matches its action with witty lyricism.

Jonathan Weir as Jafar and Jay Paranada as Iago, meanwhile, are winning "bad guys," Weir channeling Harvey Korman in his broad portrayal of "Aladdin's" chief villain and Paranada squawking his own kind of manic exuberance that matches Scott's.

"Aladdin" does, as noted before, move a bit too fast. The delivery of "Arabian Nights" and "One Jump Ahead" in particular feels rushed, as does the quickly paced ending that brings the story to its resolution in mere minutes, without a great deal of build-up. But "Aladdin" still works, bringing a treasured contemporary Disney favorite to life that, were it not for ticket prices, would bring us back almost as often as we watched the movie.

"Disney's Aladdin" runs through Jan. 13 at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St. Tickets start at $25. 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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