Review: Aladdin (Broadway in Chicago)

| April 29, 2017

Adam Jacobs stars as Aladdin singing Proud of Your Boy, Broadway Chicago           


Written by Alan Menken, Tim Rice,
  Howard Ashman and Chad Beguelin
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
thru Sept 10  |  tix: $44-$153  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

Now extended thru September 10!


No expense spared for irresistible production


Arabian Nights  from Disney's Aladdin at Cadillac Palace Theatre, Broadway Chicago

Broadway in Chicago presents

Review by Catey Sullivan

Not for nothing does the touring production of Aladdin have 30 tons worth of lighting and scenery suspended above the stage. The show makes Phantom of the Opera seem like an exercise in stark minimalism. Chandelier, shmandelier. Instead of something simply slo-mo falling via wires you could see from the balcony, Aladdin gives audiences a carpet that swoops up, down and sideways with absolutely no means of visible support. Then there are the fireballs – dozens of them – that get lobbed across the Aladdin stage, their flames shooting skyward as as dozens of dancers flip, tap and tumble around gleaming, four-story high piles of golden treasures.

Isabelle McCalla  stars as Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin at Cadillac Palace Theatre ChicagoEvery time you think the genie can’t possibly pull even one more thing out of his magic lamp, he does.

It would be all to easy for things like character and story to be overwhelmed amid the hallucinogenic production values on display in Aladdin. Who cares about the trials of Princess Jasmine and petty thief Aladdin when you’re blinded by 30 tons of sparkle? Somewhat astoundingly, Aladdin pulls off a good plot told by adequate characters. When Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and Princess Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla) set sail on that floating carpet, there’s romance as well as spectacle in the air.

Composer Alan Menken, lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and book writer Chad Beguelin (who also penned some of the lyrics) have pulled together an irresistibly astonishing production. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin has spared no expense in replicating the Broadway blockbuster. This is a show that will utterly enchant children while dazzling their caretakers. Aladdin has just enough self-awareness and self-deprecating humor to keep the grown folks laughing There are groaning puns about falafel and tabouli, beetle-browed villains who revel in cartoon cackles and, most importantly, an overall sense that the storytellers are fully aware just how ridiculous parts of this story are.

The tale of a beggar who woos a princess pokes fun at everything from bro-culture (there is an entire number devoted to this) to perpetually shirtless heroes. As Aladdin, Jacobs serves up circa 1990s-“Dreamcoat” Donny Osmond, with just enough sincerity to keep the character balanced between schmaltz and cynicism. McCalla’s Jasmine is sassy enough to avoid the damsel-in-distress stereotype. And the show has an exquisitely dastardly bad guy in Chicago-native Jonathan Weir’s wanna-be sultan, Jafar. The real star of the show, however, is none of the above. That mantel falls squarely on Anthony Murphy, who makes the Genie the comedic and dramatic heart of the whole shebang.

Adam Jacobs stars as Aladdin in Disney's Aladdin, Broadway in Chicago Anthony Murphy stars as Genie in Disney's Aladdin, Broadway in ChicagoJonathan Weir stars as Jafar in Disney's Aladdin, Broadway in Chicago Adam Jacobs and Isabelle McCalla star as Aladdin and Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin, ChicagoBroadway in Chicago presents Disney's Aladdin at the Cadillac Palace Theatre

All of those positives leave me conflicted about Aladdin. Everything that works about this show – and there is so much that does – is in the service of a show that is profoundly problematic. Consider: Murphy is a man of color. He’s playing a slave (albeit a magic slave). His slave character who doesn’t even rate a name. When The Genie isn’t serving the wishes of his lighter-skinned owner, he’s trapped in a tiny lamp-sized prison.

(Spoiler alert: The next few sentences reference the resolution of the show.) In the end, The Genie is undyingly grateful to his master for freeing him. So you’ve got a black man who ends the show slavishly praising his former master. And what has this master done to warrant such an outpouring of gratitude? Something that barely scrapes the lowest bar for acts of human decency.

I get that it was magic that put Genie in the bottle to begin with. But the longer you watch Aladdin and the Genie getting along like gangbusters as they dance and grin through the show, the more you’re apt to start questioning the ethics of a show where a slave loves to dance for his master.

Then there’s the casting. Aladdin’s large ensemble is filled with top-tier actor-dancer-singers. Everybody on stage is a genuine triple-threat more than up to the elaborate choreography and rapid-fire comedy that fills the show. The country Aladdin is set is never named, but the abundance of turbans in the costume design clearly indicate it’s in a Mid-Eastern land. Since the opening number is called “Arabian Nights,” it’s safe to say the locale is somewhere in the vicinity of Morocco or Egypt. I’m not informed enough to call out specific actors, but I’d wager a fistful of dirhams that there’s some brownface going on with the actors portraying “Arabians.”

Anthony Murphy stars as Genie in Disney's Aladdin, Friends Like Me, Broadway Chicago Isabelle McCalla and Adam Jacobs star as Jasmine and Aladdin in Disney's AladdinArabian Nights from Disney's Aladdin, Broadway in Chicago

On the one hand, you have a show where the lead is a slave who doesn’t get a name. And who winds up slavishly praising his master for doing something he should have done in the first place. Then there’s the casting. More and more, theaters are becoming aware of the unacceptability of brown- and yellow-face. No matter how extremely talented the ensemble, it’s difficult to overlook the possibility that the show has been significantly miscast.

On the other hand, there’s not a child in the land who wouldn’t love Aladdin. The music is terrific, from the adventuresome romance of “Whole New World,” to the splendor-on-steroids treasure cave glam of “A Friend Like Me,” to the hilariously frat-boys-in-Fezzes camaraderie of “Baykal, Omar, Aladdin and Kassien.” The designers – Bob Crowley (set), Natasha Katz (lighting), Gregg Barnes (costumes) and Jim Steinmeyer (illusions) – have done an impeccable job enhancing the story with endlessly fascinating dazzle (that carpet is EVERYTHING.) Music director Michael Kosarin makes Menken’s diminished-minor-centric score sound fantastic.

In the end, you have a spectacle-filled Disney show that will no-doubt entertain and wow kids of all ages long through the end of Chicago’s summer.  

Rating: ★★★

Alladin continues through Sept 2nd September 10th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances Wednesdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 1pm & 6pm. Tickets are $44-$153, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Performing Friend Like Me in Disney's Alladin, Broadway Chicago

Photos by Deen van Meer 




Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), Anthony Murphy (Genie), Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine), Jonathan Weir (Jafar), Reggie De Leon (Iago), JC Montgomery (Sultan), Zachary Bencal (Babkak), Philippe Arroyo (Omar), Mike Longo (Kassim), Korie Lee Blossey (Standby Genie and Sultan), Ellis C. Dawson III (Standby Genie and Babkak), Adam Stevenson (Standby Jafar and Sultan), Mary Antonini, Michael Bullard, Michael Callahan, Bobby Daye, Lissa deGuzman, Matthew deGuzman, Olivia Donalson, Michael Everett, Karlee Ferreira, Michael Graceffa, Clinton Greenspan, Adrienne Howard, Albert Jennings, Kenway Hon Wai K. Kua, Jason MacDonald, Angelina Mullins, Celina Nightengale, Kameron Richardson, Jaz Sealey, Charles South, Manny Stark, Annie Wallace, Michelle West (ensemble, swings), Brandon O’Neill (Spooky Voice, Voice of the Cave)


Brent-Alan Huffman (music director, conductor), Faith Seetoo (keyboard 2, asst. conductor), Bob Sutter (keyboard 1), Danny Taylor (drums), Michele Lekas, Andrew McCann (violins), Tim Burke, Carey Deadman, Roger Reupert (trumpets), Andy Baker (trombone), Steve Leinheiser, Amy Barwan, Paul McGinley (reeds), Jocelyn Davis-Beck (cello), Marc Hogan (bass), Joe Sonnefeldt (percussion).

behind the scenes

Casey Nicholas (director, choreographer), Bob Crowley (scenic design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Gregg Barnes (costume design), Ken Travis (sound design), Jim Steinmeyer (illusions design), Josh Marquette (hair design), Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (makeup design), Michael Kosarin (music supervision, vocal arrangements, incidental music), Danny Troob (orchestrator), Glen Kelly (dance music arranger), Michael Callahan (dance captain, fight captain), Michael Bullard (asst. dance captain), Jaz Sealey (fight captain), Jeremy Chernick (special effects design), J. Allen Suddeth (original fight direction), Scott Taylor (associate director), Casey Hushion (associate resident director), Tara Rubin Casting (castings), Geoffrey Quart, Hudson Theatrical Associates (technical supervision, production management), Clifford Schwartz (senior production supervisor), Jason Trubitt (production supervisor), Michael Mindlin (dance supervisor), Howard Joines (music coordinator), Anixter Rice Music Services (music preparation), Jeff Marder (electronic music programming), Michael McGoff (production stage manager), Kate McDoniel (stage manager), Vanessa Coakley, Trisha Henson (asst. stage managers), Disney Theatrical Productions (producer), Deen van Meer (photos)

Performing Friend Like Me in Disney's Alladin, Broadway Chicago


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Alan Menken, Broadway in Chicago, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Catey Sullivan, Musical, National Tours, Tim Rice, Video, YouTube

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