Arts & Culture

REVIEW: 'Aladdin' opens dazzling doors to theatrical magic

Deen van Meer photo

Genie is so thrilled to be summoned out of his lamp that he stages a full-blown Broadway style song-and-dance celebration, surrounded by    glittering gold and dazzling diamonds in the Cave of Wonders. It’s one of the most spectacular scenes in “Disney’s Aladdin,” onstage through Dec. 9 at the Des Moines Civic Center.
Deen van Meer photo Genie is so thrilled to be summoned out of his lamp that he stages a full-blown Broadway style song-and-dance celebration, surrounded by glittering gold and dazzling diamonds in the Cave of Wonders. It’s one of the most spectacular scenes in “Disney’s Aladdin,” onstage through Dec. 9 at the Des Moines Civic Center.

DES MOINES — Nobody does magic like Disney.

“Aladdin” has jumped from screen to stage for a flying carpet ride through a whole new world that’s shining, shimmering, splendid — and onstage at the Des Moines Civic Center through Dec. 9.

Nearly every seat was filled for Thursday’s opening night, until the lights dimmed. Then every seat was empty as audience members let out a mighty roar and jumped to their feet for an instant standing ovation.

This is the most visually stunning production I’ve ever seen. On any stage, anywhere.

It’s hard to decide who or what is the biggest star: headstrong Princess Jasmine (Lissa deGuzman), star-struck Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan), glib and glorious Genie (Korie Lee Blossey), the color-drenched scenery or the magnificent, bejeweled costumes. Luckily, they all work together to create a theatrical thing of beauty.

The endearing elements from the 1992 animated film are in the stage version, which opened on Broadway in 2014 and grabbed five Tony nominations. Why Gregg Barnes’ costumes were overlooked by the Tonys is beyond me. At least he picked up major awards in London and Australia. His designs are truly stunning, with layers of exotic fabrics, feathered turbans, swirling chiffons and Swarovski stones dancing like diamonds under the ravishing lights.

DeGuzman is everything you want in a Disney princess — beauty shining inside and out. Ruled by centuries of tradition, she must marry a prince, but so far, no one has suited her royal highness. She wants to move freely outside the palace walls, marry for love, and be an equal to her future husband, who will become sultan. Such a notion is waved off by the ruling men, even though her father (Jerald Vincent) is kind and obviously loves her very much. However, his wicked prime minister, the Grand Vizier Jafar (a deliciously evil Jonathan Weir), has his eye on the throne, devising a wicked way to gain that power.

Frustrated, the princess slips into a disguise and out of the palace walls to experience the wonders of the marketplace, where street vendors peddle their wares, maidens and dervishes whirl their skirts, young men dance with swords — and Aladdin and his three delightful “street rat” buddies move in a pack, stealing food. Naturally, this is where Jasmine and Aladdin meet and are quickly smitten.

In a vision, Jafar and his goofy sidekick Iago (Jay Paranada) learn the way to unlock secret powers is to send “a diamond in the rough” into the magical Cave of Wonders, so they save Aladdin from a dire fate for theft, and march him to the cave. Once inside, he is instructed to steal a magic lamp and touch nothing else.

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Aladdin strays from that warning, and is sealed in the cave, surrounded by jaw-dropping gold-and-diamond opulence — and the lamp. When he rubs it to see its inscription, out pops Genie, and the fun begins, winding through the rest of the show.

The humongous cave — large enough to stage a full-blown dance extravaganza — is the visual highlight of Act I, causing my friend and me to say “wow” out loud. The magic carpet ride in Act II had us saying “wow” over and over and over. The entire scene was filled with enchantment, as Aladdin showed Jasmine “A Whole New World.” And how that carpet flew against the changing night sky is nothing short of magic. We saw no wires as its twisting path soared high above the stage.

The entire production soars, from the beautiful blend of voices and orchestra to the laugh-out-loud one-liners and the stunning images that will last long after its hard-fought happily ever after ending.

• Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

IF YOU GO

• What: “Disney’s Aladdin” national tour

• Where: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines

• When: To Dec. 9; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 4 to 7; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, 8; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2, 9 (no performance Dec. 3)

• Tickets: $40 to $150; Civic Center Box Office, (515) 246-2300 or Desmoinesperformingarts.org

• Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; recommended for ages 6 and up

• Online: Aladdinthemusical.com

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