‘Aladdin’ in Chicago lives up to its hype as a lavish, enthralling spectacle

July 13, 2017

Last week prior a Chicago business trip, it occurred to me that while there I should review a show. Thanks to the good folks at Broadway in Chicago, who have graciously invited me to cover openings of shows in the past, I was able to secure tickets to Disney’s “Aladdin,” which I saw Thursday, July 6. The North American tour of the hit Broadway musical, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman ,Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin and book by Chad Beguelin, opened  at the Cadillac Palace Theatre on April 19,  and continues its run through Sept. 10, 2017.

Jacob Dickey in “Aladdin” – Courtesy of Matthew Murphy. Used by permission.

“Aladdin” is adapted from the 1992 box office smash, Academy Award®-winning animated Disney film and ancient folktales including “One Thousand and One Nights.”  It follows street urchin Aladdin into an exotic world of fearless adventure, comedy and romance. This stage musical version features a full score. It also includes five songs from the Academy Award-winning soundtrack and more written especially for the stage.

Prior to seeing the show, I researched the production and read numerous reviews written by members of the Chicago press, most of which were glowing in their praise. One quote in particular, on the theater’s marquee, caught my eye. It was from Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. Regarding the show, it read “Eye-Popping and Extravagant.” Although, wishing to remain objective, I was nevertheless swayed by my respected colleague’s generous pronouncement about what I was about to see. I am pleased to report, however, that Jones’s description was, fortunately, totally accurate. And then some.

At a time when live theatre has to compete with other forms of entertainment, especially sporting, concerts, other live events and, of course, movies, it is ironic that the very company that produces some of the world’s most successful films has created a musical that more than holds it’s own when it comes to spectacular visual and sound content. The show’s opulent sets, elaborate lighting, sumptuous costumes, and stunning special effects are absolutely breathtaking and totally fit Disney’s brand.

“Aladdin” – Courtesy of Matthew Murphy. Used by permission.

But it is not only the show’s splendid bells and whistles that make this production what it is. It’s the superb dramatic and vocal performances of its splendid cast that provides it with the sparkle that makes  “Aladdin” such an unforgettable entertainment experience.

Chief among them were those of Jacob Dickey as the precocious Aladdin and Isabelle McCalla as his love interest, the feisty Princess Jasmine. Showing convincing chemistry, the attractive duo shined as they rode a magic carpet (a mind boggling illusion) singing the show’s romantic signature song “A Whole New World.”

Jonathan Weir in “Aladdin” Courtesy of Matthew Murphy. Used by permission.

Turning in colorful characterizations were Jonathan Weir as the unscrupulous  and evil Jafar who plots to become the Sultan and Reggie De Leon, who plays Iago, his duplicitous sycophant, with delicious comedic flair.

Aladdin’s best friends, Babkak, Omar and Kassim, as played by Zach Bencal, Philippe, Arroyo and Mike Longo, respectively, were all adept at physical comedy. Among the show’s most endearing and appealing characters their camaraderie was believable in “Babkak,Omar, Alladin and Kassim,” and “High Adventure.”

Stealing the show, however, was understudy Ellis C. Dawson III as Genie.  Standing in for Anthony Murphy who regularly performs the role, Dawson was a dynamo, as he demonstrated tremendous vocal power and range as the gregarious yet pitiful servant who yearns to be free.  If ever there was showstopper it would certainly be “Friend Like Me,” featuring Dawson, Dickey and the ensemble. I count it as one of my all -time favorite (also lengthiest) production numbers seen during my 45 years of seeing musical theatre.

Adding to the show’s extraordinary vitality and energy was one of the hardest working ensembles I have ever seen on any stage. I simply can not fathom the endurance it took for these gifted performers to executive director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s intricate dance movement and vocalize so well at the same time.  It was truly mind boggling.

For those residing in Central Indiana who are reading this, I can safely guarantee you that it is totally worth the three and 1/2 hour trip to Chicago to experience this uplifting, joyful and engaging piece of escapism that is “Aladdin.” It will leave you with memories that you will savor for a lifetime. It’s that captivating, not to mention, just pure fun.

Tickets for “Aladdin” start at $44. In Chicago, tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com, where you may also obtain a complete performance schedule.


photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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