There’s an epic Disney Aladdin running at PPAC right now, one that pays off if you like lavish sets and breathless costume changes and beautiful dancers (including, unexpectedly, the hunky guy from Pink’s Try video). But if you like character development or a compelling story, this is probably not the show for you.
Aladdin (Jonah Ho’okano) looks remarkably like the cartoon hero and is charming enough to convincingly morph from scrappy street orphan to bewildered prince. Jasmine (Kaenaonalani Kekoa) is something of a non-event, though. Her feminist/socialist leanings come off as grating, and there’s little evidence of the charm required to make us believe Aladdin might actually fall for the princess.
Then there’s the Genie problem, and it’s a big one. It’s great that they didn’t opt for a Robin Williams clone, because that would never work, but reframing Genie (Korie Lee Blossey) as a large sassy black man is a really bad idea, since Genie is literally a singing and dancing slave with magic powers. Um? Sure, he gets the biggest and best musical number (“A Friend Like Me”), but there’s no sense of awareness about we’re witnessing, even though a contemporary sense of self-awareness peppers the script in other ways. (I should note that the problem is not unique to this tour; since the show’s Broadway debut in 2014, Genie has been a series of large sassy black men.)
The play runs about a half hour longer than the movie did but still seems rushed and unfocused, with the Aladdin-Genie and Aladdin-Jasmine plotlines competing for our attention. The jokes parrot many from the movie, but real humans don’t talk at the same hyperbolic speed as cartoon characters and so many of them fall flat. Many of them are also just corny. (“It’s not right to bully.” “Did somebody say tabbouleh?!”)
Other changes from the film include a bunch of new numbers, some better than others. Evil henchman Iago (Reggie De Leon) is somehow even more annoying than Gilbert Gottfried as a cartoon bird. Aladdin’s simian sidekick Abu has been replaced by a coterie of bros that come across as the Three Gay Stooges, coded with the G-rated squeak of a 1930s comedy.