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Knock-Outs

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in “Aladdin.” | CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in “Aladdin.” | CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN

BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE  | When a show comes from Disney, you can count on it to have its inimitable brand of magic. If that magic comes at the expense of an emotional connection with the characters, that’s a small price to pay for the dazzling spectacle that no one can do better. From sheer energy to gasp-inducing technological wizardry, Disney shows are in a class by themselves.

Happily, “Aladdin” is right up there with the best of the Disney movies translated to the stage. This is an overwhelming crowd-pleaser of a show with a hilarious new book by Chad Beguelin that stresses the comedy of Aladdin, the Genie, and their pals over the love story with Princess Jasmine. Still, the princess’ efforts to upend Agrabah’s patriarchal structure with her message of girl power do resonate, and while defeating the evil Jafar with the help of the Genie from his lamp, Aladdin learns to be true to himself and gets the girl in the end.

Even if you know the 1992 movie — a fine musical in its own right — backwards and forwards, the surprises and pleasures abound. Yes, it’s a little sluggish at the beginning when director Casey Nicholaw tries to recreate the rooftop chase scene from the film, but the show quickly hits its stride and the rest of it is a fantastic ride that sweeps everyone along in its exuberance.

Three shows, three engaging evenings of theater

Adam Jacobs is a fine Aladdin, with a great voice and a nimble physicality needed for swinging from rooftops and escaping guards. Courtney Reed is charming as Jasmine. Jonathan Freeman, who voiced Jafar in the movie, is cartoonishly evil, in the best possible way. And his henchman Iago, a parrot in the movie, has been reimagined as a long-suffering assistant, played by Don Darryl Rivera.

But the comic heavy lifting falls to James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie. He gives a no-holds-barred performance in two show-stopping numbers that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Robin Williams, of course, made an indelible mark on this role in the film, but Iglehart has made it his own, with sly references to other Disney movies and cultural touchstones including Oprah Winfrey. It’s a tour-de-force of ultimate cosmic theatrical power, to appropriate one of the Genie’s descriptions of himself.

Problems with the opening aside, Nicholaw’s direction shows flair, humor, and a madcap energy that’s completely enchanting. Add to that Bob Crowley’s amazing sets, Gregg Barnes’ costumes with enough bling to light up the sky, and a truly magical magic carpet, and you have an “Aladdin” that is a blaze of entertainment to delight any audience.

Andy Karl in the title role of “Rocky.” | MATTHEW MURPHY

Andy Karl in the title role of “Rocky.” | MATTHEW MURPHY

Just as everyone in Rocky Balboa’s life has low expectations of him, I was pretty skeptical about how the classic movie was going to be turned into a musical. I’m happy to report I was proven so wrong. “Rocky” is certainly one of the most exciting, edge-of-the seat shows to come along in a while — a knock-out on every level.

Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone have adapted the screenplay to fit the stage, and the music and lyrics by the team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens perfectly capture the characters’ lack of sophistication while making them warm, relatable, and, most importantly, believable. Christopher Barreca’s sets and the projections by Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina create the world of the show with some of the most amazing stagecraft to be seen yet.

But it’s the performances that really makes this show so powerful. Andy Karl as Rocky is consistently sympathetic and engaging. His powerful baritone, exceptional movement, and focused characterization balance passion with humor. Margo Seibert as Adrian is every bit his match. She has an incredible voice and an inherent fragility perfect for the role. Terence Archie as Apollo Creed is outsized and outlandish, the perfect foil for the more humble Rocky.

The movement, particularly the final boxing match, with choreography by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, is an essential element of this show and it’s gripping. The audience was on its feet cheering during the final fight scene, which, even at close quarters, looked remarkably real.

But this ultimately is not a story about boxing. It’s about staying the course and going the distance. No matter what life throws at you, a friend recently mentioned to me, “a champion always finds a way to succeed.” That could easily be said about Rocky, but also about everyone involved in this wonderful show.

Carlo D’Amore in "No Parole." | GREGORY SCAFIDI

Carlo D’Amore in “No Parole.” | GREGORY SCAFIDI

Amid stage machines and multi-million dollar capitalizations, there’s still room in the theater for a simple story well told. That’s what you’ll find in “No Parole,” the one-man show from Carlo D’Amore, head of the Live IN Theater. The company is known for its immersive, audience participation shows, but here D’Amore takes a different route and tells the story of growing up with a con-artist mother.

Performing on a bare stage, D’Amore conjures an entire cast of characters and a crazy world. Though it’s doubtful anyone in the audience has endured such a complex and unusual upbringing, anyone can relate to the mixed emotions of love, frustration, anger, and forgiveness endemic to relationships with one’s parents — and D’Amore harnesses the universality of those feelings to make an engaging show. When your mother is an internationally known con artist with a dizzying list of aliases, your story is not one that need rely on a magic carpet or a boxing ring to pack a punch.

ALADDIN | New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St. | Tue. at 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. |  $49.50-$115.50 at ticketmaster.com or  866-870-2717 | 2 hrs., 35 min., with intermission

ROCKY | Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway at 50th St. | Tue. at 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $79-$143 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | | 2 hr., 30 min., with intermission

NO PAROLE  | Hartley House, 413 W. 46th St. | Through May 3; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. | $26 at noparole.liveintheater.com or 347-422-7562

 

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