You’ve probably seen the 1992 Disney movie *Aladdin*. You might not know that a friend of Richard’s was the voice of Jafar, the villain. His name is Jonathan Freeman, and he and Richard met many (MANY) years ago in summer stock outside of Harrisburg, PA. They’ve stayed friends all these years, Jonathan has gone on to do many Broadway musicals, a handful of movies, a couple of *Law and Order*s, the usual circuit for a New York actor. He doesn’t often play a leading role, but he has a Tony nomination (for playing the headwaiter in *She Loves Me*) and he is always working.
Disney has been working on a stage adaptation of *Aladdin* for years, and they’ve kept Jonathan in the process all along. A couple years ago, in his apartment, he sang us a song they had just written for his character. Unfortunately that song is no longer in the show, but we were fortunate enough to hear it! They had their out of town tryout in Seattle over the winter, and Jonathan said that he had never known such drastic changes in a show.
We got free tickets for the show Tuesday night (3/18), as part of that same group that got us tickets for *The Bridges of Madison County* and *Rocky*. *Aladdin* was better than both of them put together, and then some! It was phenomenal, a unique mixture of opulent and cheesy, everything very professionally done, a first class Broadway product. Everything about it was wonderful - - the music, sets, costumes, performances, staging, I can’t find any fault with this show.
A great deal of the credit goes to director Casey Nicolaw. He also directed two of our favorite recent Broadway musicals, *The Drowsy Chaperone* and *The Book of Mormon*. This show has the same corny, madcap tone as *The Drowsy Chaperone*. It doesn’t have much in common with *The Book of Mormon*, which I’m sure is just fine with Disney.
The two high points in the show were big show-stopping production numbers, one in the first act and one in the second. The first act number is for the genie, showing off all the things he could do with the three wishes, culminating in a big tap number for the entire chorus. I’m a sucker for a well-done tap number, and I was in tears. It was complete and utter joy, unfiltered and unabashed. And a similar number in the second act, when Aladdin-as-prince makes his entrance into the palace. Four members of the male chorus came on doing something with sabers, then four women doing a dance with veils, then six men doing an impressive dance, et cetera - - anyway, some of these chorus members made two or three costume changes by the time the number was over, they kept coming back on in a different outfit, doing a different routine. It was ridiculous and sublime!
A few other highlights: There’s a moment in the first act where Jafar (our friend Jonathan Freeman) and Iago (played by a parrot in the movie, but a human being in the show) are shown Aladdin, “the diamond in the rough”. A trail of smoke comes out of the magic book and a grainy video of Aladdin appears on the flat behind them. This was maybe the most beautiful use of video projections I’ve ever seen, it was truly magical.
Jonathan was fantastic, he had just the right villainous tone, using his height, his booming voice, his rubbery face, and his Grand Man of the Thee-ah-tah diction to the fullest. Richard and I are both hoping he’ll get nominated for a Tony, but he’ll have stiff competition with the dazzling performer playing the genie, James Monroe Iglehart. He was extraordinary, he had the audience right in the palm of his hand. I have a feeling this show will win lots of Tonys and run for a very long time. Richard and I are already talking about seeing it again.