Aladdin, as many know it, is the tale of a young rapscallion who joins forces with Robin Williams to win the heart of a beautiful Arabian princess while learning the power of selflessness. While some of the core pieces seemed to have carried over, this local Aladdin adaptation is a bit more British than usual, and that’s mostly a good thing.
Writer and director Brian Watkins has brought the theater stylings of British pantomime (or panto for short) to the Majestic stage with his adaptation of the classic fairy tale Aladdin. Panto was born in England between the 16th and 19th centuries, inspired by the “commedia dell’arte” theater style from Italy. The key components of panto are audience participation, tons of slapstick comedy, and some uniquely “messy” effects. Aladdin is one of the classic panto shows performed throughout Europe, and it’s a bit different than you may remember.
Watkins’ adaptation of the panto classic takes place in Al-Katrash, a city mired in rebellion against the unhappy Grand Vizier (Jerry Hughes) who has banned all joking, laughing, and playing. Our hero, Aladdin (Alexandra Toner), is the son to Widow Washingo (Roger Hammer), the owner of a local laundry. When he has a chance meeting with Princess Angelica (Rowan Hammer), Aladdin falls for her immediately, despite knowing he could never truly be with her without the riches of royalty. The evil wizard Darkenfast (Anthony McMahon) catches wind of this and decides to use the desperate Aladdin to his advantage, needing a pawn to further his goals of world domination.
Toner’s portrayal of Aladdin is anchored by her incredible charm, as she deftly tackles each song and dance number with ease. Another standout is the appropriately hammy McMahon as Darkenfast. McMahon perfectly displays the huff and puff of your classic evil villain to great comedic effect. The best gut laughs come from Sabra Parrish’s Jeanie and Hammer’s Washingo, as they both feature a certain sass that carries through their performances. A spotlight must also be given to the ensemble of children who play various roles throughout the play and are just outright adorable.
Another surprising cast member is… the audience. As a panto, audience participation is expected. The audience is encouraged to hiss and boo at villain characters, to laugh aloud at the jokes, and to otherwise interact with the play where they feel it’s appropriate. One special audience member is designated a special role in the play that could really be a spotlight as long as they cooperate.
Musically, the show is top-notch, featuring a pitch-perfect orchestra playing tunes that would fit in with any classic cartoon movie. And the singing voices of each cast member perfectly suit each song.
Watkins puts it perfectly, by stating that this is the type of play that could interest just about anybody.
“This is an excellent show for people who don’t go to see theater,” said Watkins. “If you’ve never been to a theater, you don’t know what it’s about, this is a really good way for the whole family to come out. Dad will be entertained, Mom will be entertained, and the kids will be entertained. And they’ll all spend an evening watching something that’s really cool, on stage, that isn’t on a computer screen, it’s live.”
Aladdin is running at the Majestic Theatre at 115 SW 2nd Street through the next two weekends. Shows on Sunday start at 2:30 p.m., all others start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for members, students, and seniors.
By Nathan Hermanson