Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
The world of Arabian Nights has seemingly landed in a corner of Glen Echo Park. For its latest production, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Adventure Theatre has hung ornate metal lanterns from the stage rafters, covered the wall in Oriental carpets, and piped in Middle Eastern music. It feels like stepping into a bazaar in Marrakech.
The authenticity is thanks to consultants from the cultural offices of Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and Morocco. It’s not just the set and sound design that re-create the magical world of Aladdin, but also the costumes, which are wonderfully detailed, and come in sumptuous jewel colors.
These real-world elements help to ground a story that is all about dreams and genies. Aladdin (pronounced in the play Ala ad-Din) is a poor tailor’s son who meets the sultan’s daughter, Adora, after she has run away from her overprotective father in order to explore the world outside her palace. They immediately hit it off.
But Aladdin gets waylaid by a magician who needs to find someone “without greed in their soul”, someone who can imagine magic, in order to open a secret cave that contains priceless treasures. Gentle and kind, Aladdin fits the bill.
For the sake of adventure, Aladdin follows the magician to the cave, which he is able to open without much trouble. The magician tells Aladdin that he can take some of the glittering fruit filling the cave but to find a magic lamp and give it to him. Aladdin begins to catch on that the magician is more wicked than wise.
The frustrated magician seals up the cave in anger and leaves Aladdin stuck there. “Where can I find the lamp?” Aladdin asks the audience – though after all the enthusiastic replies from willing young viewers, he might immediately have regretted the question. “It’s there!” I heard one kid call out. “There’s a genie inside, and he’s blue!”
Since this isn’t the Disney production, the genie inside the lamp is definitely not blue, but he’s impressive enough in flowing yellow robes and a towering turban and with a booming voice (which frightened some very little kids in the audience). He tells Aladdin that he can grant his every wish. He only needs to “ru-ru-ru…” Turns out the genie is forbidden to say exactly what Aladdin must do to command the genie.
But Aladdin eventually does figure out that he has to rub the lamp to summon the genie and get his wish. He escapes the cave, orders up a feast for his mother, and gets a dazzling new set of clothes. For Adora he has a small palace built – only to find out that Adora is due to be betrothed to the Grand Vizier’s son, whom she doesn’t love.
So, despite having the magic of the lamp in his power, Aladdin’s adventures have only just begun. He has to get Adora’s father to agree to give him her hand in marriage instead of to the Grand Vizier’s son and to foil the evil magician. And it turns out that only by Aladdin and Adora working together can they create their happy ending.
It’s a bit of a complex tale, and my four-year-old started getting restless when they began talking about betrothals. But on the other hand, the fairy-tale characters (you’re either good or bad) mean that older kids might find the story too simple. The theater recommends the play for all ages but I think from 5-8 years might be the ideal age.
For this production, the theater has also partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For $15 you can make a donation to the foundation and your kid can receive his or her very own toy lamp to take home after the performance. Needless to say, my kid wanted one – but was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a real genie inside! (Instead, there was a scroll telling the brave story of one Make-A-Wish recipient.)
All in all, Aladdin is a rare immersive experience geared to families about a part of the world that’s in news headlines a lot. The production puts the spotlight not on conflict and crisis but on the region’s rich tradition of storytelling that is full of imagination, joy, and magic.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp runs to May 21. Tickets are $19.50 each. Children under the age of 1 are free. The show runs an hour with no intermission.
- Parking is free onsite and is about a 5 minute walk from the theater.
Photos by Sarah Straub.