New York state of happy
LOS ANGELES—I took a brief trip to New York last week for a little bit of work. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to take in a couple of Broadway shows in the process. This season has been an interesting one, what with the opening of several really great shows and the closing of a few others. Since my time in New York was severely limited, there was time to take in only two of them, and I believe I chose well: “Aladdin,” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
If you intend to watch “Aladdin” thinking that you’re going to see the stage version of the hit 1992 movie, you wouldn’t be completely wrong, but you wouldn’t be completely right, either.
(The author provided the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in that movie.–Ed.)
The musical, now playing at New Amsterdam Theater, former home of “The Lion King” (now playing at Minskoff Theater) and “Mary Poppins,” is its own creation. Sure, it uses the classic songs, and a lot of dialogue, from the film, but there are significant changes that are immediately noticeable. First, the Genie (played with a full charge of life by newly minted Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart) is the host who introduces the story of “the diamond in the rough,” Aladdin (portrayed with energetic vigor by the very handsome and talented Adam Jacobs).
The basic plot of the film is followed: Poor boy meets beautiful princess, gets the lamp for an evil royal vizier, releases the genie, is granted three wishes, which is when all things go to heaven, and hell. However, the monkey Abu is now gone, replaced in the story by three of Aladdin’s friends—
Babkak, Kassim and Omar (played by Brian Gonzales, Brandon O’Neill and Jonathan Schwartz respectively).
Jonathan Freeman, the exact same actor who provided the voice of Jafar in the film plays Jafar on Broadway. Iago (played by Don Darryl Rivera) is no longer a talking parrot, but a human being with equal malevolence, and the same bright red exterior. (Don, by the way, is Filipino.)
Courtney Reed, who normally plays Princess Jasmine, was on vacation, so we had Lauryn Ciardullo taking over for this performance. Clifton Davis plays the Sultan, Jasmine’s father. (A bit of Clifton Davis trivia: He wrote the hit song “Never Can Say Goodbye” for the Jackson 5.)
For the Broadway show, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Chad Beguelin wrote new songs to add to the ones from the film, and songs that were cut from the movie were restored. My favorite restored number is “High Adventure,” penned by Menken and Howard Ashman and performed by Babkak, Kassim and Omar.
Expanded from its form in the movie, and turned into a textbook Broadway spectacle, is the song “Friend Like Me,” performed by the Genie. Imagine lots of tap dancing. Imagine lots of props, special effects and moving set pieces. This number usually gets the audience on its feet.
The one number I waited to see was “A Whole New World,” and I was not disappointed. Whereas, in the film, the orchestration and general feel were of swift flight and adventure, on stage the song and the scene are more romantic. No longer are Aladdin and Jasmine flying fast through the air; instead they float amongst the stars. There is still a magic flying carpet, and it is used to wonderful effect, to push the story of the two lovers along.
“Aladdin” is wonderful family fun, exactly what you’d expect in a Disney musical—great music, wonderful production numbers, a story of love. I highly recommend this, and I definitely will see it again with my family. Nicole is going to get a kick out of that carpet for sure!
‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’
Quite honestly, I had no idea what to expect. Everyone I spoke to about “Gentleman’s Guide” had wonderful things to say. Stagecraft and performances are great, and the material is original, clever, funny and smart. I have to say I was just floored by how magnificent this cast is—led by Jefferson Mays, who plays the entire D’Ysquith family and Bryce Pinkham who plays Monty Navarro—and how united they are in telling this story.
Yes, the stagecraft is indeed amazing (with dancing armor, interesting uses of projection and paintings that clear for the cast to sing), the set design wonderful and the costumes perfection. But most incredible is Mays (a Tony winner in 2004 for “I Am My Own Wife”), and all of his comedic gifts placed on display. He portrays a drunken priest, a bad actress, a buxom philanthropist of a certain age, a fey countryman, the head of a business, a janitor, an avid eugenicist, a sexually charged rich man and an obnoxious earl. Each one is distinct, and he morphs from one into another, sometimes at breakneck speed, seamlessly. He is just riveting. The other members of the company likewise sing well, act well and keep this witty story going at a wonderful pace.
This show won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, and with good reason. It is, quite possibly, the most original piece of musical theater currently playing on Broadway. It elicits plenty of loud and long laughter from the audience. (Imagine two warring D’Ysquiths at two opposite ends of the dinner table.) You gotta be smart (or a smartass) to appreciate this sort of show. I shall definitely watch this one again, too, with my husband. He’s gonna love it!
There is something about a good, solid Broadway musical that makes my soul happy. With these two, my heart runneth over.