Arts & Entertainment

Arabian Nights & ClassicBroadway Mix in ‘Aladdin’

In the forward to his translation of the “Thousand and One Nights,” the nineteenth-century English translator Richard F. Burton wrote of the work’s “most fantastic flights of fancy, the wildest improbabilities, the most impossible of impossibilities.” The current production of “Aladdin,” being performed at the National Theatre, Washington, D.C., through April 30, is fully deserving of this description.  

The plot, familiar to those who have seen the Disney feature-length animated film upon which this show is based, involves the Sultan’s daughter Jasmine (a charming and independent Senzel Ahmady) spurning the expectation that she marry a man whom she does not love.    As Jasmine enters the marketplace for the first time, she meets Aladdin (an energetic and passionate Adi Roy), and they both escape pursuit.  Once a magic lamp falls into his hands, however, Aladdin gains the help of a genie (an incandescent Marcus M. Martin, whose humorous and dynamic performance dominates the show). Aladdin is soon able to court Jasmine, for he is now disguised as a prince and equipped with a magic carpet.  Yet will she still be attracted to him in his princely guise? In much of the rest of the play, Aladdin wrestles with whether he wants to be his natural self or to continue playing the role of a prince, something which he is not.

The visuals of the production are stunning.  Bright colors are employed, especially orange and green, to make this “Disney Renaissance” cartoon come to life. The costumes are a cross between Disney’s “Cinderella” and an Arabian Nights fantasy. At times, however, other costumes are used to great comic effect, as when the genie appears in a delightfully outrageous 1940s zoot suit of purple. Illusion designers Jim Steinmeyer and Rob Lake, lighting designer Natasha Katz, scenic designer Bob Crowley, and costume designer Gregg Barnes have all joined forces to imbue this production with the power—and magic—of the Disney animated film wherever possible. 

Adi Roy as Aladdin in the North American Tour of “Aladdin.” (Photo: Deen van Meer, Disney.)

Music is also varied. While Middle Eastern musical strains are common, there are also appearances of Broadway, Latin, and vintage jazz style music as well. “One Jump Ahead,” for example, is a song which combines Arabian qualities with a classic 1930s swing sound for Aladdin and his talented dancing sidekicks Babkak, Omar, and Kassim (Jake Letts, Ben Chavez, and Colt Prattes, respectively).  Indeed, a wonderful aspect of the show is that it introduces younger members of the audience to classic Broadway musical styles.  

The evil Grand Vizier, Jafar, is played by Anand Nagraj; he has a wonderful bass voice which is used to great effect in “Diamond in the Rough.” Aaron Choi, who plays Iago, is very silly, but in a way which children in the audience clearly adored. Sorab Wadia is excellent as the caring, if at times exasperated, Sultan, the father of Jasmine. Aladdin/Adi and Jasmine/Senzel duet beautifully in “These Palace Walls” and (of course, atop a flying carpet) “A Whole New World,” the most famous tune in the show as well as the film which spawned this musical.

One nice touch is that the stage curtain depicts different styles of quilt work. Parts suggest Middle Eastern designs, whereas others recall Native American patterns, subtly suggesting that the story of Aladdin is universal, transcending time and place. Similarly, the show appears to suggest that it is possible to be both traditional and modern at the same time, although it also teaches us that choosing to simply escape one’s obligations and responsibilities may give rise to problems which are unexpected and undesirable.

Most importantly, the audience clearly enjoyed the production, with thunderous applause at the end of the show. The touring production of “Aladdin,” currently at the National Theatre, truly provides an entertaining vision of the “most fantastic flights of fancy, the wildest improbabilities, the most impossible of impossibilities” of the “Thousand and One Nights.”