In Laguna, ‘Aladdin’ weaves magic for kids and adults alike
Most Christmas holiday theater productions operate at one level – a basic G-rated approach everyone in the family can relate to and enjoy.
Lythgoe Family Panto’s shows, though, aren’t like their peers.
The British entertainment form of panto works at two levels – one for kids, the other for the rest of us.
“Aladdin and His Winter Wish,” the Los Angeles-based troupe’s latest new show to visit Laguna Playhouse, is no different in that respect from past LFP shows.
The story, characters and songs will appeal to kids of all ages. The double-entendres of Kris Lythgoe’s script, meanwhile, tickle adult funny bones while sailing over the heads of younger audience members.
The score, crafted from existing pop and rock songs, makes “Aladdin” a true jukebox musical. And as with its previous shows, LFP’s playlist always features hits from earlier eras – in this case, “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “On the Wings of Love,” and “Walking on Sunshine” – to appeal to the audience’s adults.
In the desert city of Bagroba, Aladdin (Jason Gotay) and his indecisive younger brother Wishee Washee (Jason Earles) are so impoverished, they’re forced to steal food. But Aladdin has dreamed of a kind, beautiful princess and having enough wealth to marry her.
Once he realizes the Princess (Kira Kosarin) is real, he works to make his dream a reality, with help from the Genie of the Lamp (Jay Donnell).
As with previous LFP shows in Laguna, nearby city locales are worked into the script as in-jokes: the villainous magician Abanazar (Josh Adamson) seeks the title of “Sultan of Laguna,” and Mission Viejo, Dana Point and Tustin receive multiple jokey mentions.
Adamson’s British accent and unctuous personality create a boo-able, hissable villain in Abanazar. The bulk of the puns and vaudeville-style jokes go to Earles’ Wishee, a funny little guy with a mild, pleasant persona, and Jason Graae in drag as Aladdin and Wishee’s mom, Widow Twankey.
With his high, Marge Simpson-like blonde ’do and British accent, Graae has fun hamming it up in the Widow’s introductory solo “Old Time Rock and Roll” and flirting with the front row’s male patrons.
As the Genie, Donnell is ebullient and always ready and eager to serve. As Sultan, Barry Pearl likewise fulfills a role that advances the plot versus generating laughs.
The joke department includes Abanazar referring to himself as “Sultan Pepper” and his guards, at one point, as Muhammed Al-Gore and Muhammed Al-Roker, and the Genie asking Aladdin if he wants tickets to “Hamilton” and saying he studied “genie-ology.”
Kids will get the meaning of a Taylor Swift reference, but many other mentions – Prince Harry, “Tylenol PMS,” Chipotle and snippets of the “Lawrence of Arabia” and “I Dream of Jeannie” themes – exist for their parents’ enjoyment.
Broadway fans should also get a kick out of Abanazar’s ending to his singing of “Viva La Vida,” where he cries “Ah-haaa!” – Elphaba’s famed ending to her “Wicked” song “Defying Gravity.”
Patrons in the balcony are said to have gotten their tickets through Goldstar, and Abanazar repeatedly shows his exasperation with millennials. Sports references abound: Rams, Chargers, Magic Johnson. Widow Twankey annoys Abanazar by calling him, among other things, Abercrombie, Abba-Bonanza and Abracadabra.
Delivering first-rate dancing in steps created by director and choreographer Spencer Liff is the five-person ensemble of Armando Estrada, Alexis Gilbert, KT Madden, Quinton Peron and Kiana Wood. Gilbert also shines in her supple dancing as the Slave of the Ring.
Each of the two young stars, Kosarin and Gotay, has potent pop vocals amply showcased in Laguna. Gotay’s expressive pop vocal style is exemplified in his first solo, “You Don’t Know Me.” Kosarin sings the verse of her first solo, “Call Me Maybe,” as soft and intimate, then pumps the ballad into a rockin’ dance for the chorus.
Together, they flood “Walking on Sunshine” with elation and deliver a soulful, beautiful duet of “On the Wings of Love” from atop a flying carpet that magically rises well above the stage, taking the duo over Cairo, London, Paris and Hollywood, whose landmarks are seen on the ground below.
Donnell’s delivery of the song “Fantasy” is commanding, and when Gotay rocks out while singing “Billionaire,” he answers with an entertaining rap. Gotay and Donnell also lead the Act Two opener “Treasure,” backed by the ensemble, six guest dancer children (the “gold team,” performing on alternate dates with the “purple team”) and a dancing adult and baby camel.
From on stage, musical director and keyboardist Keith Harrison ably handles a pop music score that includes “Jai Ho,” “Break My Stride” and “Let It Snow.”
Set designer Ian Wilson has ingeniously created nine different settings, ranging from the Sultan’s royal palace and surrounding grounds to Abanazar’s lair to the magic cave where Aladdin finds the magical lamp. By using either flats or curtains, he facilitates rapid set changes while still providing scads of color and detail. All of the action is ringed by a handsome blue and gold proscenium depicting minarets’ slim towers and rounded crowns.
The storybook look of Wilson’s work is augmented by Albemarle Productions’ costumes, which credibly lift us to a faraway place and an era long past.