Arts

Stage Review

Magic and much more from a dazzling ‘Aladdin’

The opening number “Arabian Nights” sets the stage for Disney’s onstage version of “Aladdin.”
Deen van Meer
The opening number “Arabian Nights” sets the stage for Disney’s onstage version of “Aladdin.”

The title of the show may be “Aladdin,” but the star of the touring production now playing at the Opera House is the Genie, Michael James Scott.

Scott’s high-energy, highly detailed portrayal of that resident of the magic lamp may not dim the memory of the late, great Robin Williams’s performance in the 1992 animated film, but book writer Chad Beguelin has taken the spirit of that character, and updated and adapted it for a memorably sassy, stage approach.

Scott opens the show with “Arabian Nights,” setting the scene for the story and introducing himself as a personality — and performer — to be reckoned with. No surprise then, that when he gets to the show’s signature number, “Friend Like Me,” Scott tears it up. Without the help of animation or CG, Scott morphs effortlessly from game-show host to gamine chorus boy, tap-dancing up a storm while scimitars slash, dancers emerge from dazzling heaps of golden towers, and the number culminates in an impressive display of fireworks. It’s hard to imagine him not collapsing from exhaustion, but Scott makes it look effortless. Oh, and did I mention his beautiful, bald head is covered in sparkles?

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The master of the lamp the Genie serves is the poor “street rat” Aladdin, and the lovely ballad, “Proud of Your Boy” (with lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, one of several numbers not in the original movie but included here), offers some insight into the hopes and dreams of our young hero. Clinton Greenspan offers an appropriately unadorned performance, making his Aladdin simple and sincere even as he nails his vocals.

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Beguelin’s story line faithfully follows Aladdin’s love for Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla), the feisty princess who refuses to be handed off by her father to any “Tom, Dick or Hassim,” and the use of two of his three wishes from the Genie to make her think he’s a prince. But Beguelin liberally sprinkles the script with puns and goofy running jokes, not all of which land on the funny bone.

It’s always fascinating to see the choices Disney’s theatrical team makes when adapting a beloved animated film to the stage. Here, a highlight of the show is Aladdin and Jasmine’s ride on a magic carpet for their duet “A Whole New World.” The stage show also forgoes the hero’s sidekick monkey Abu in favor of a trio of best friends, Babkak, Omar, and Kassim (think “Three Amigos”), who get two knockout numbers — “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim,” and the thrilling three-part harmony of “High Adventure.” Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Jed Feder provide just the right personality quirks to make each of the three pals distinct, and their harmonies are divine.

Isabelle McCalla and Clinton Greenspan star in “Aladdin.”
Deen van Meer
Isabelle McCalla and Clinton Greenspan star in “Aladdin.”

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, best known for his work on the hilariously high-energy “The Book of Mormon,” starts the show on 10, and never slows down for even a breath. As if the first act closer “Friend Like Me” weren’t enough, the second act opens with Prince Ali’s parade to the palace, another production number that builds and builds and builds before reaching a spectacular crescendo. His choreography manages to include nods to Las Vegas, Bollywood, Busby Berkeley, and classic Broadway kick lines, while Alan Menken’s music references scat, Leonard Bernstein, and a few of his own Disney scores. With the help of Bob Crowley’s vivid sets, Natasha Katz’s dynamic lighting, and Gregg Barnes’s seemingly endless collection of colorfully patterned, sequined, and layered costumes, eye-popping barely begins to describe the look of the show.

In the midst of all the glitz and glitter, some character development gets lost and most emotional moments are run over by the next set of rim-shot gags, but “Aladdin” delivers as a razzle-dazzle extravaganza, led by the mesmerizing Scott in the guise of the Genie.

ALADDIN

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Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin. Book by Chad Beguelin. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At the Opera House, Boston, through Aug. 5. Tickets: From $34.50, 866-870-2717, www.BroadwayInBoston.com

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.