SCHENECTADY – Overheard at intermission on Saturday night:
“So what do you girls think?”
“I love it, Mom!”
That’s what you need to know about “Aladdin,” beginning its national tour in Schenectady. Bring a kid and remember the kid in you that saw the 1992 movie.
I don’t think I will see “Aladdin” again after my maiden voyage into the Disney franchise, but I found much to enjoy about the production from a purely theatrical point of view while not investing much thought in the story (book by Chad Beguelin) or the music (by Alan Menken). (I will observe, however, that the values kids can take away from the dramatic events — friendship, self-discovery, honoring a promise, freedom, imagination, cooperation — are ones even curmudgeons still need to be reminded of.)
Seeing a show this beloved in the company of a large audience that knows what to expect pumps up the energy from the git-go, so when Genie (Marcus M. Martin) breaks through the scenery (and the fourth wall) to introduce himself, the evening’s carpet ride gets off to a raucous start. It’s a love fest, and rather quickly I came to love Genie — er, Mr. Martin — too.
Then comes an all-company number called “Arabian Nights,” introducing us to characters and tensions and setting, with twirling and leaping and running in abundance. Again, the audience exploded.
Soon it’s time to focus on Aladdin (Adi Roy) and his travails, revealed in his theme song, “Proud of Your Boy.” While he is in the marketplace lamenting his life, Princess Jasmine (Senzel Ahmady) is behind palace walls lamenting hers: she is destined to be married off by her father, the Sultan (Sorab Wadia), to some wealthy suitor, with no say in the matter.
Naturally, their lives intertwine (in a scene reminiscent of Tony/Maria’s meeting in “West Side Story,” actually); complexities emerge thanks to the evil machinations of palace advisor Jafar (Anand Nagraj) and his minion, Iago (Aaron Choi); and Aladdin’s character is tested again and again until the happy ending.
Now about the theatrics. We’ve come a long way from the periaktoi of the Greeks, let me tell you. Machinery, lights, sound effects, projections, props: imagine the eagerness with which the technical crew set out to meet the enormous challenges. Costumes and wigs and makeup? Bold and sumptuous. A pop-up book in a kid’s hands.
For my money, the biggest thrills of the evening come from the dancing, and we have choreographer/director Casey Nicholaw to thank for that. One of these days he’s going to win the Tony for choreography, for which he has been nominated six times. “Friend Like Me” is a tour de force for Martin, with Roy ably on board, too. Tango? Soft shoe? Tap? Nicholaw mixes it all up throughout the proceedings, but the performers aren’t mixed up at all. Precision and joy in every step.
The orchestra, under James Dodgson’s vibrant conducting, propels the music forward, totally in sync with the shenanigans on stage. Loud? You bet, just like the visuals.
In a show like this, it’s usually the sidekicks or the baddies that get the laughs. Nagraj and Choi riff off each other with sleazy relish; Jake Letts, Ben Chavez, and Colt Prattes score as Aladdin’s bumbling best buds; and Martin carries off Genie’s running commentary with a twinkle.
Wadia makes Sultan a dignified foil to his disobedient daughter, and Roy and Ahmady pull off their formulaic characters with skill and sincerity.
Before showtime, as we walked to Proctors from the parking lot, a young woman behind us was explaining to her date why she liked the show, which she had seen somewhere before: the colors! The costumes, the lighting, the sets. Spectacular. Vivid.
I see what she was talking about.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN: through Oct. 23
HOW MUCH: $130-$35
MORE INFO: proctors.org, or 518-346-6204
More: Life & Arts | Everything Schenectady