Aladdin – Three Stars ***


Aladdin-9422We have tickets from £38 –

After a successful run on Broadway, “Aladdin” follows in the footsteps of “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” as the latest Disney animated movie musical adapted for the stage to transfer to the West End. Thomas Schumacher, Head of Walt Disney Theatricals, has brought the show to the Prince Edward Theatre, which was the original London home of another Disney screen-to-stage hit “Mary Poppins.”

The animation classic “Aladdin” was the number one film of 1992, and notable for the ingenious comic vocal skills of the late Robin Williams as the Genie. It showcased original songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and was the final collaboration between them before Ashman’s death due to aids in 1991. Sir Tim Rice stepped in to complete work on the film’s score with Menken, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1993 Oscars for “A Whole New World.” Ashman and Menken completed eleven songs for the original feature of “Aladdin”, but only a few made it into the movie. Some ditched movie songs have been revived for the stage show, and two new songs with additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin have also been added.

With not a puppet in sight, the show has humanized all the movie’s animal characters. Iago the onscreen parrot, sidekick to the evil Jafar, is now a sycophantic human clown, and Aladdin’s cheeky celluloid kleptomaniac monkey Abu, has been replaced by a vaudevillian trio of human street urchins. The changes are more in line with Menken’s and Ashman’s original musical ideas for “Aladdin” conceived nearly 25 years earlier, which were a tribute to the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies, and a celebration of the jazz of the 1930’s and ’40s. They envisaged the Genie as a Fats Waller or Cab Calloway-esque type of character from Harlem’s Cotton Club, and indeed that is what the Genie mostly delivers vocally in the stage adaptation.

Set in Agrabah a mythical Middle Eastern kingdom, the musical follows the adventures of “diamond in the rough” Aladdin, a good-hearted street urchin. Princess Jasmine, the sultan’s headstrong and independent daughter escapes from the palace in disguise to mix with the ordinary folk. She meets Aladdin who rescues her when she gets in trouble with the law, and inevitably Aladdin falls in love with her. However, the princess can only marry royalty. But all is not lost as Aladdin obtains a magic lamp, and with the help of its wacky Genie and three wishes he sets out to win Princess Jasmine’s heart. His plans are thwarted when the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier Jafar also competes for the Princesses hand, and it’s up to Aladdin to save the Princess and the Kingdom from his clutches.

The evening opens spectacularly with a colourful ensemble rendition of “Arabian Night’s,” and is quickly followed by a bouncy delivery of “One Jump Ahead,” and an emotional performance of “Proud Of Your Boy” by Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin. However, the show quickly flatlines until the welcome arrival of the Genie towards the end of act one who thankfully resuscitates the production with a “Friend like Me,” a eight minute number brilliantly performed and staged with magic tricks, special effects, pyrotechnics and a toe-tapping chorus line. The second act is also flawed by energy dips but again it has moments of sheer theatrical wonder. The show’s anthem “ A Whole New World” is enchantingly staged with a magic-carpet that seamlessly seems to fly to a breathtaking backdrop of 220 moving lights that all change colour. The production is blessed with an outstanding ensemble cast, and the company musical numbers are performed to perfection.

The spoken scenes with the exception of those with the Genie, are often flat, lack pace and integrity. Overall it feels like the choreographer turned director Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon), has invested a lot more energy and time to the dance and musical numbers than to the dialogue. However, things are not helped by the rather shallow book.

Disney’s branding always ensure the highest production values, and “Aladdin” is no exception. The imaginative sets by legendary designer Bob Crowley are a marvel to look at (the entire Cave of Wonders scene is gold leafed), and the 350 utterly gorgeous costumes by Gregg Barnes are dripping with dazzling Swarovski crystals. Dean John-Wilson is very likable as Aladdin, and is well matched with ex-Sugarbabes beauty Jade Ewen as Princess Jasmine. Trevor Dion Nicholas who understudied and sometimes performed the role of the Genie on Broadway, gives remarkable energy to the role and lifts every scene he is in.

Booking until 11th February 2017 at Prince Edward Theatre, 28 Old Compton St, London W1D 4HS. Tickets from £38.

Review by Oliver Valentine.




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