Broadway, Squad-way: Aladdin Still Going Strong
The first thing I noticed when watching Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway: they took away his monkey and replaced it with a squad. The second thing I noticed: they took away Jasmine’s tiger and replaced it with a squad. Whether for sheer logistical purposes (who wants to deal with a tiger backstage?) or to give both characters some more dimension by giving them actual friends who talked, there’s a reason this musical appeals to more than just kids who’ve had too much candy and their very tired parents. Squads are a teenage/young adult thing, existing for ages and now made famous by celebrities like Taylor Swift. For whatever reason, young people tend to move in packs, and the way Aladdin reflects this is a marvelous way to bring the modern into a story set ostensibly long ago and halfway across the world.
Another way Aladdin stays fresh and topical is with James Monroe Iglehart, the Genie. Already with a 2014 Tony win for this hilarious yet poignant role, Iglehart has clearly been given free rein to ad-lib and shoot the breeze at will, often breaking the fourth wall. Disney couldn’t have made a better choice. A well timed quip at the climax reels young adults back in who may have been thrown a little by the overly quick resolution: “What’s Beyonce? Why should I be sipping Lemonade?”
Yes, the entire first act translates to about the first twenty minutes of the movie. Boy, do they love their exposition. But Adam Smith’s firm grasp of the dreaming, secretly ashamed Aladdin coupled with the imaginative, brassy nature of Jasmine (Courtney Reed) make for a power couple that may certainly need some help governing, but we’re pretty sure won’t burn down Agrabah – looking at you, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman, who now plays as the character he originally voiced in the animated film). Side characters like Iago (Don Darryl Rivera) and Aladdin squad member Babkak (Brian Gonzales) keep the laughs rolling while providing also as soundboards for further development of the bigger ones like Jafar. Despite the power of the leads, Aladdin is very much an ensemble-driven comedy. From the huge dance numbers like “Prince Ali”, where so many cast members leave and return onstage so quickly that it’s believable that backstage could populate the fictional city of Agrabah, to scenes in the marketplace where each character has their own quirks and forms a rich tapestry of distinct individuals, the ensemble is not just a background for Jasmine and Aladdin: they’re a squad. They’ve got things to do other than watch a ‘street rat’ fall in love, and they’ll bump the princess straight out of the way if she’s not gonna pay for her apple.
With old songs originally excluded from the movie, new songs added in, and enough special effects to make you believe in the genie, Aladdin remains as magical today as when it premiered two years ago.