Like so many of Disney’s stage adaptations of its classic animated movies, Aladdin is a spectacle that will take your breath away.
In case you’ve somehow dodged the plot of the movie, here’s the gist. The fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah is in turmoil as the evil Vizier, Jafar, attempts to wrest control from the Sultan. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Jasmine, rebels at the idea of getting married for political advantage, instead wishing for a husband that will truly love her. But none of these people are the main character of the story. Instead, that honor goes to Aladdin, a street urchin whose good heart puts him in the path of a magic lamp containing a genie. The genie then helps Aladdin to woo the princess and foil the plans of Jafar.
From the opening moments, this show is a sensory feast. Great performances by the cast are almost overshadowed by the truly astounding set and prop designs. The musical transports you to a golden cave of wonders, a luxurious palace and a bustling desert marketplace. Each set is opulently dressed and intricately detailed. The settings come alive in a way that you rarely get to see onstage, let alone in a touring production.
Each scene is filled with magic, especially the story’s famous magic carpet ride. I’m no stranger to stage magic and I know a lot about behind-the-scenes tricks in theater, but I honestly cannot guess how this effect is accomplished. The magic carpet is not lifted by anything and has no visible suspension as it flies through a galaxy of stars during "A Whole New World."
The show also takes the animal companions from the movie turns them into human characters. Jafar’s parrot, Iago, becomes a human crony and Aladdin’s monkey, Abu, is transformed into three streetwise friends. Aladdin’s friends work beautifully within the story and add more reality to a character whose only friend in the movie was a kleptomaniac monkey.
Iago’s transition to the stage is a little less smooth. The character has always been a comedic one, but onstage he is written as a little too naïve and it’s hard to tell why someone like Jafar would put up with him.
The stage production of Aladdin is as breathtaking as finding a genie of your own. With spectacular production quality, this show is easy to enjoy. Although there could be more character development for the villains of the story, for the most part, the show fixes many of the problems in the movie. Aladdin has some friends and he gets to talk with Princess Jasmine a bit before falling in love with her. The familiar songs are tastefully augmented with a few extras that bring to life the kingdom of Agrabah and Aladdin’s inner struggles. However, it’s the sets and props that really took my breath away. They support the story without distracting from it, and are truly pieces of art in their own right.
Aladdin is playing now through April 21, 2019 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd. Tickets range $33 to $118.
Photos courtesy of Deen van Meer and Matthew Murphy