Disney has become such a theatrical powerhouse that each film-turned-musical comes with a lot of expectations. From The Lion King's breathtaking puppetry to The Little Mermaid's clever swimming effects, there's a high expectation to see that special Mouse magic come alive onstage.
The national tour of Aladdin has that in the form of its flying carpet (try to spot the wires or lift, I dare you), but sadly that's about where the wizardry ends.
The 90-minute animated film on which the musical is based has been stretched into two-and-a-half hours, full of extra songs that stall the momentum and extra characters that fall short of their movie counterparts. And with a few notable exceptions (and some gorgeous costumes by Gregg Barnes), the show definitely doesn't look like it has Disney money behind it.
But let's start with the good. As mentioned, Barnes' costumes are a sequined bonanza, lushly lit by Natasha Katz. Their Agrabah is mysterious and romantic, with a touch of Las Vegas pizzazz. Inhabiting this world is a large cast of lithe dancers who parade their pecs and perfectly toned abs through director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw's immense group numbers, including the showstoppers "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali."
Fort Worth native Major Attaway is a valuable asset, tossing off sassy one-liners and displaying Herculean stamina as the wisecracking Genie. It's a role he'll return to on Broadway this fall, and the energy clearly dips whenever he's not onstage (which, sadly, is often).
Another hometown boy, Clinton Greenspan, is the street rat Aladdin, who uses his first magical wish to become a prince so he can win the hand of the feisty Princess Jasmine (Kaenaonālani Kekoa). Both Greenspan and Kekoa often seem dwarfed by the kicky, kooky happenings surrounding them, and admittedly Jasmine doesn't have much to work with even after Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice wrote her a new, girl-power ballad ("These Palace Walls").
Chad Beguelin's "modernized" book, however, feels just as lifeless, making several tongue-in-cheek references to the movie that just end up as reminders of its superiority. Instead of animal sidekicks (Abu the monkey for Aladdin, Rajah the tiger for Jasmine, and Iago the parrot for the evil Jafar), we get three buffoonish sidekicks, three dull ladies-in-waiting, and a still screechy minion played by Reggie De Leon.
They all cavort on Bob Crowley's oddly cheap-looking set, which even in its most extravagant looks like someone went nuts in the clearance section of Jo-Ann Fabric. Josh Marquette's wigs are similarly uneven, with anachronistically modern lobs and flat-ironed tresses showing up on several female characters.
But as is often the case with a big-budget musical based on a well-known property, perhaps Aladdin isn't designed to be studied. Instead, you can let the gold spray paint and giant rhinestones wash over you, hum along to "A Whole New World," and be thankful that the kids still seem to be enjoying themselves.
Dallas Summer Musicals' presentation of the national tour of Aladdin runs at the Music Hall at Fair Park through June 23.