PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Aladdin — The Ashman Cometh (Again)

By Harry Haun
21 Mar 2014

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"The great thing about working for Disney," Beguelin pointed out, "is that they have so many smart dramaturges and writers on staff. You get smart notes — which is not typical, let me tell you. They really know their characters and their stories. It's been reassuring to know that they're very clear about the stories they want to tell."

Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, paced the piece like a house-afire and with infectious silliness, pulled out all the stops for "Friend Like Me" (aptly, the last Oscar-nominated song by Menken and Ashman). By the time the Genie, played by James Monroe Iglehart, finished demonstrating all the magic he can do for Aladdin, the new master who rubs him the right way, the entire New Amsterdam audience was on its feet, applauding wildly.

"I love that number," Nicholaw didn't mind admitting, "and what I'm proudest of is that people laugh all night, then suddenly have tears in their eyes and they don't know how that happened. It's magic! You got magic carpet, you got magic tears!"

The magic carpet ride in the second act — an amorous metaphor if ever there was one for pauper-pretending-to-be-prince Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and the regal real thing, Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) — is another occasion for a standing ovation for the audience. To the show's big hit, "A Whole New World," the two lovers float about a darkened stage brightened only by Christmas-light stars, taking them and the audience no place in particular except possibly into a world of enchantment.

"It's not quite a Mary Poppins trick," said Reed. "It's a beautiful moment in the show the same way that it is in the movie. We're up there so we know what it feels like — to be on it feels really exciting — but we don't know what it looks like. We have to rely on cast-mates and other people to tell us. Everybody thinks it's just breathtaking. It's really a moment that we come together as co-stars, and I think, because it's such a big moment in the show, it does exactly what it's supposed to do. when we did it in the rehearsal room for the first time, I got really emotional and could barely sing the song. It's about the two of them falling in love and connecting."

From his point of view, Jacobs said, "There's very little turbulence up there so it's a very smooth ride. There's no landing gear, either. It's not necessary. I love flying on the magic carpet. It's a magical ride every time. And I love the end of Act One, which sets up the second act. That's the moment when he first becomes Prince Ali and he realizes that everything is going to start happening for him."

Jacobs, who became the father of twins on the first day of New York rehearsals, plays Aladdin, drenched in hot-pink by lighting designer Katz and proving himself a limber, live-wire presence. For no apparent reason than to prove he can do it, he is repeatedly thrown into the chorus line and keeps up as well as anyone since Daniel Radcliffe's turn in How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.