Currently heading into a magical second year Disney’s hit 1992 animated film of the same name; Aladdin is playing at the prince Edward Theatre, London. We went to see the wonders instore with a trip to the musical that is perfect for family entertainment and introduction to Musicals for the youngsters!
Aladdin, of course, feels doubly familiar; not just for its place in the Disney pantheon, but for British audiences, thanks to the story’s regular appearances on the Christmas panto schedules!
Here in the stage version wrapped in glitter, sequins and streamers that are fired over our heads in the first act. Welcome, as the show tells us, to Agrabah, which has “more glitz and glamour than any other fictional city in the world”, where “even our poor people look fabulous” and “by the way, everybody sings.” The resources thrown at the stage here and the sheer sense of spectacle, is awe-inspiring.
Stage musicals have previously featured flying cars, glass elevators, and helicopters, but here the audience is invited to hop aboard a magic flying carpet along with homeless urchin Aladdin as he courts the beautiful Princess Jasmine, with the assistance of a genie summoned from a lamp.
It starts off with Cab Calloway-style scat-singing and erupts into everything from a medley of hits from other Disney musicals (sung in the manner of James Brown) to nods to West Side Story, Hello Dolly! and American game shows. It ends with a gold-encrusted chorus performing one of those shameless, crowd-pleasing tap-finales.
This is wish-fulfilment, in every sense, and requires a big suspension of disbelief, but the show also has its own distinctive dose of knowing irreverence thanks to Chad Beguelin’s book: “I can’t work like this – someone call my agent!” moans the genie at one point. And the score interpolates references from other Disney musicals, including Beauty and the Beast, for added familiarity.
Many of the tweaks happen to the secondary characters, with the most notable being Jafar’s feathery sidekick, Iago, who is now human. Actor Jermaine Woods plays him with the same deliciously sinister squawk we have come to expect, however, Aladdin’s faithful marsupial companion, Abu, has also gone, and as much as we would have loved to have seen a small monkey bounding about, Aladdin’s new found friends – trio Babkak, Omar and Kassim – are brilliant replacements. They make Aladdin stronger and less vulnerable than we have seen him before.
Matthew Croke as Aladdin brings cheek and charm to the role and the chemistry between him and former Sugababes singer Jade Ewen as Princess Jasmine is electric and sparks a stunning West End debut for her. The star of the night, undoubtedly, is Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie (formerly the understudy on the Broadway production, which has been running since 2014). The Genie’s big show-stopper Friend Like Me – a jazzy riot of infectious brio and trick-mustering showmanship that conjures the spirit of Las Vegas and hits the jack-pot in terms of hummability – will leave you heading for the interval ice-creams with a smile on your face! This number is brilliantly choreographed by prolific Broadway Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon/Dreamgirls).
Alan Menken’s irresistibly tuneful score, with lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is beautifully rendered under the musical direction of Alan Williams and the highlight of the magic carpet ride with lack of visible mechanics will leave you questioning just quite how Aladdin and Jasmine are floating around the stage!
Overall, this is a shining, shimmering, splendid musical that sits with ‘The Lion King’ in terms of its magnificence. With that Disney production currently celebrating its 19th glorious year in London’s West End, there’s no doubt that ‘Aladdin’ is destined for the same fate. So rub a magical lamp and grab some tickets so you too can hop aboard that magical carpet ride!
Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton Street