Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Aladdin: A Musical Panto loosely follows the story from "One Thousand and One Nights" and the 1993 Disney movie. Aladdin (Camilo Estrada) is a poor youth with big dreams, an honest heart, and a crush on the sultan's daughter Mai Tai (Samantha Funk). In this version he is also a computer programmer designing a new video game with his best friends Manny the Monkey (Peter Danelski) and Morris the Mantis (Zach Aguilar). The sultan's chief adviser and greedy land developer Fu (Christopher Patrick Mullen) plans to use Aladdin to obtain a magical lamp, but Aladdin ends up with Fu's powerful ring and the magic lamp instead. When Aladdin accidentally releases the genius and genie inside, things get complicated. Aladdin adds to the classic tale with many conventions of the holiday panto including original songs, slapstick comedy, dancing, gender-crossing actors, topical humor, and loads of audience participation.
The format may be more relaxed and whimsical than a traditional musical, but the ensemble working under Pete Pryor's skillful direction is top notch. Estrada plays the lead role with youthful exuberance and sings a rendition of "Despacito" that will make you want to stand up and dance. Funk shows off her vocal talents and considerable charm as princess Mai Tai. Of course, any tale is only as good as its villain, and Mullen is marvelously sinister as evil wizard and gaming master Fu. Kim Carson's jovial turn as the gluttonous Sultan and Nichalas L. Parker's bombastic performance as the Genie of the Lamp are also highlights. Mark Lazar goes over-the-top camp to get big laughs as Aladdin's mom, the Widow Twankey.
Costume designer Rosemarie McKelvey has created some extraordinary looks for Lazar and keeps the whole cast shimmering in a seemingly endless array of sparkling turbans and bedazzled suit jackets.
Aladdin: A Musical Panto is a fantastic entertainment for the entire family and a terrific addition to the productions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol that proliferate this time of year. There are a few tweaks that could make the production even better (all of the characters involved in the gaming and programing are male and some of the jokes about the size of Mantis's family are just not that funny), but this is a rare bit of theater that will delight children and their parents equally.
People's Light Aladdin: A Musical Panto, on the Leonard C. Haas Stage in Malvern through January 7, 2018, at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets, call 610-644-3500 or visit peopleslight.org.