'Aladdin' review: Sweet Broadway Disney

Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) in the new musical "

Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) in the new musical " Aladdin," directed by Thomas Schumacher. (Credit: Deen van Meer)

The carpet flies, kids, and it's awesome. Aladdin, an urchin from the streets, and Princess Jasmine float far away into the extremely twinkly sky.

Such awesomeness, of course, is to be expected from "Aladdin," Disney's latest Broadway translation of a beloved animated fantasy. But what's a whole new world, as the song promises, is the almost modest, down-to-earth human scale of director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw's big, cheerful production -- an enjoyable throwback to old-time musical comedy.

This sparing use of the wow-magic factor in Bob Crowley's charming sets is balanced with -- OK, sometimes tipped over by -- lots of clever self-referential gags and winking show-biz asides about "West Side Story," "Beauty and the Beast" and reality TV. There is a by-the-pants looseness to the style that feels a bit slow in the first act but picks up gleefully after intermission.

The news in this "Aladdin" is James Monroe Iglehart's Genie, here also the emcee, who has the unpredictable style of a big-band crooner filled with unlimited infusions of helium. The other news is the show's return to the original, less action-driven concept that composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman created before Ashman died in 1991. That was a year before the movie, which included some songs with lyrics by Tim Rice, was made. The result is sweeter, with spiky comic humans who almost make up for the missing animal sidekicks, and with three endearing Ashman songs that didn't make it into the film.

The central one is "Proud of Your Boy," which Aladdin sings to his late mother to establish the goodness of the kid described by market vendors as a "street rat." Adam Jacobs, who looks like the cartoon star grafted onto the grin of John Leguizamo, is hunky -- but not threateningly so.

While Jacobs looks like a boy, Courtney Reed's Jasmine is surprisingly womanly, even a bit sultry, for a Disney heroine. And Chad Beguelin's new book makes sure to emphasize her independence in a court where princesses must marry a prince to run her kingdom. He also softened or omitted the film's most egregious Arab parodies, though some may wonder about the apparent scarcity of Middle Eastern actors.

Jonathan Freeman, the voice of the royal vizier Jafar in the movie, is even more imposing onstage, warning, "I feel an evil laugh coming on." Don Darryl Rivera is Iago, no longer his parrot but a bigmouth, big-voice tweedledum of a clown. And Clifton Davis plays the Sultan with dignity, not as the movie's kindly dimwit.


WHAT "Aladdin"

WHERE New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St.

INFO $49.50-$137.50; 866-870-2717; aladdinthemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Cheerful, enjoyable, human-scale musical-comedy.

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