When it set up shop for a nearly two-month-long run at the Kennedy Center in 2019, Metro Weekly‘s theater critic André Hereford referred to the musical adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin as “not a whole new world, but rather an opulent remodel of the hit 1992 animated movie.”
The show, he noted, “works hard to bring magical fantasy to life onstage. And the ingenuity put forth in director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s touring production of his…Broadway staging does appear to make magic carpets fly.
“Entire rooms and wardrobes change colors in an instant, and characters materialize or dissipate in a fog,” Hereford continued. “Disney clearly has spent a princely sum on the musical adaptation of the studio’s retelling of the age-old Middle Eastern folk tale. [The show] deploys impressive lighting and visual effects and lustrous costumes and sets to conjure the fairy-tale world of ‘street-rat’ orphan Aladdin, and his ostensibly perilous adventures in the kingdom of Agrabah.”
Those near-instantaneous wardrobe color changes and the “lustrous costumes” in general are the handiwork of Gregg Barnes, the prolific costume designer behind everything from the Kennedy Center-helmed 2012 revival of Sondheim’s Follies (which earned Barnes his second Tony Award) to Kinky Boots (the U.K. production for which garnered him an Olivier Award).
Barnes’s designs are typically created with a larger-than-life flourish and an eye toward creating a spectacle — yet his work is replete with fine detail, nuance, and precision.
In a 2019 Metro Weekly interview, he agreed with the notion of Aladdin representing a pinnacle career achievement, one utilizing every bit of his design acumen as he endeavored to create an astounding 337 costumes, based on 137 of his original designs.
In the interview, he gave some insight into his approach with the show by zooming in on all that went into the scenes that kick off Act Two in grand fashion.
“That one moment at the start of Act Two is about a three-minute number, and there are 80 costumes in it,” he says. “As the actors go into the wings, they have about nine-to-14 seconds to change and get back onto the stage in a new color-palette costume.
“If you look at it carefully when it all starts, you can tell they look a little puffy at the top of the number, and then they get thinner as we get to the finish [stripping off layers of costumes as they go]. It’s funny, because I think in some subliminal way the audience thinks, ‘There are 80 people back there,’ because we don’t really reveal the quick changes on stage…. We do it all in the wings. It’s quite a feat, it takes a huge amount of coordination.”
Beyond that, though, he declines to elaborate on how they managed to pull off that feat and a plethora of others — including how exactly the magic carpet flies above the crowd with no visible wiring — in the show: “I have to just say, ‘Disney Magic.'”
Right now, the touring production of the show — with music composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the book — has returned to D.C. for a two-week run at the National Theatre.
Adi Roy leads the large 30-member cast playing the title role opposite Senzel Ahmady as Jasmine and Marcus M. Martin as the Genie.
Through Sunday, April 30 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets start at $60. Visit www.BroadwayAtTheNational.com or call 202-628-6161.
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