Tuacahn's much-anticipated production of Disney's Aladdin provides a feast for the senses, filling the outdoor amphitheatre with heaping helpings of visual and aural splendor.
The new musical, based on the 1992 animated film, follows the journey of an orphan named Aladdin who receives three wishes after finding a genie in a magic lamp.
The infectious choreography by Deanna Dys has a spicy Middle Eastern flair, the scenic design by Doug Ellis is inventive and richly detailed, and the costumes by Wilma Mickler are aesthetically pleasing and true to the film. Also enjoyable is the extensive use of live animals including camels, horses, and birds. The red-rock amphitheatre is perfect for the story's desert setting and elevates some of the potential cartooniness to a more realistic plane.
The opening number, "Arabian Nights," is here expanded from its truncated film version to an exciting, full-fledged ensemble song-and-dance number that highlights each of these afore-mentioned elements. It's an eye-popping way to open the show, but the rest of the production numbers don't always equal or exceed it. Instead, there is occasional difficulty in balancing crisp staging with overblown spectacle.
A prime example of this is the use of 3D effects in the Cave of Wonders and "Friend Like Me" scenes. When the 3D is integrated unobtrusively, it adds depth to the set and facilitates brilliant illusions such as Genie's appearance from within the lamp. However, too often it feels as if the actors are trapped in a poorly animated video game.
Preferable to the 3D are the pyrotechnics, which are used sparingly so as not to overshadow the story but add a needed magical element to the proceedings.
Just as important as the spectacle is the emotional heart of the show, which is especially manifested in a stunning new love song for Aladdin and Jasmine, entitled "A Million Miles Away." The song, performed when the two first meet, opens the hearts of the characters to each other and the audience.
The rest of the new musical numbers (music by Alan Meken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin), along with the characters and storylines they introduce, are a mixed bag. Most were originally cut from the film, which was initially conceived as a throwback buddy comedy that co-starred Aladdin's pals Babkak, Omar, and Kassim. The restoration of this concept causes the plot to unnecessarily veer away from the core events and characters (which is the reason it was abandoned for the film). The three friends, who narrate the story for the audience (often confusingly anachronistically), aren't fully integrated into the story, making them seem mostly extraneous.
JP Sarro (u/s Babkak), Randy Aaron (Omar), and Todd Dubail (Kassim) make the most of their thin characters (with help from Chad Beguelin's witty dialogue) and are crowd pleasers.
Other memorable performers include the fiery, yet sweet Haley Carlucci (Jasmine) and the hilarious Jeff Asch (Iago). Edward Juvier (Genie) is comical and expressive; he astutely pays homage to original voice actor Robin Williams while making the role his own.
Especially enjoyable is Broadway actor Dan Domenech (Aladdin). His looks, mannerisms, and clear voice make him a spitting image of the animated character. He's everything he needs to be-a playful, introspective, and charming leading man.
All in all, while some moments cry out for a Broadway treatment, the show isn't quite ready for the big time. Disney Theatricals has been wise to prep it for regional and amateur licensing. Tuacahn makes a valiant effort with the material that's been given and has created an entertaining production with a strong cast. A visit to see it is heartily recommended.
Disney's Aladdin runs through October 19 at Tuacahn. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-746-9882 or visit www.tuacahn.org.