London theatre review: Aladdin
Date Posted: 16/06/2016
Whoever said all that glitters is not gold obviously hadn’t foreseen Aladdin the musical hitting the West End. Rachel Bailey reports on the latest and greatest addition to Theatreland.
“A whole new world! Duet with me! Come on Ben, sing the Aladdin part!”
My partner Ben and I had been out of the theatre for all of two minutes before I was forcing my own rendition of the familiar Disney love song, A Whole New World, upon him – but he wasn’t playing ball.
Which was a shame, because all I wanted to do was ride my Disney euphoria off into the streets of London; I didn’t want the night to end.
I’m loathe to waste my precious word count for this review on writing a synopsis that a lot of people may already be familiar with when there are so many other things to shout about. So I’ll keep it short. Aladdin is the story of a street urchin who falls in love with a beautiful princess called Jasmine, and uses the power of a loveable genie to achieve his dreams.
I had three questions prior to taking my seat in the Prince Edward Theatre. Would the directors be loyal to the beloved 1992 animated film? How would the magic flying carpet be recreated on stage? And, in light of the 2014 passing of the popular comedian and actor Robin Williams, would Trevor Dion Nicholas hit the mark when it came to playing the genie? (Williams did the voiceover for the genie in the original film).
I suppose I could have looked up the answers to my questions by reading some of the American reviews; the Aladdin musical opened on Broadway in 2014 and has played to packed-out houses ever since. But in this case I wanted to find out for myself.
London’s Aladdin is more than just loyal to the film; it’s a tribute. Aladdin is my second favourite Disney movie (beaten only by Beauty and the Beast), and all my expectations were exceeded, in particular by the choreography, the set design, and the costume department...
…and the excellent cast. And the on-stage fireworks. And the newly added music by the composer of the original Aladdin score, Alan Menken. And just about everything else.
I turned to Ben three dance numbers in and whispered gleefully: “Somebody give this choreographer an award!” Bravo, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, for never skipping a beat, and for making sure no cast member does either. I don’t recall the last time I watched such a spectacle of flawless and energetic dancing.
Pictured: The Aladdin cast at the Prince Edward Theatre. (Photo credit: Deen van Meer/Disney).
From traditional bhangra to tap and jazz, a multitude of dance styles feature throughout, each more impressive than the last. There are a lot of big ensemble numbers in Aladdin, and each is performed in a glitzy hurricane of smiles and fancy footwork.
Numbers such as Friend like Me and Prince Ali are showstoppers. Fingers crossed the cast don’t exhaust themselves too quickly – a new wave of tickets has already been released, taking the Aladdin booking period into February 2017.
The costume department and set design team must have had an infinite budget – or at least, that’s the impression the audience are given. No stone has been left unturned in recreating vibrant Agrabah; or the golden-plated cave of wonders; or the lavish Royal Palace.
And by the finale, I think more costumes had appeared on stage than are hanging in the Royal Shakespeare Company Costume Hire Store (there are more than 30,000 items in that vast closet).
Ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little; but I don’t think any other West End production has a wardrobe that will match that of Aladdin. You can expect a rainbow of garments that put Joseph’s technicolour dream coat to shame, and more sequins than you can possibly imagine.
I don’t want to give too much away about the magic carpet; but those of you who are familiar with Broadway musical standards can rest assured that you won’t be disappointed. A Whole New World is as magical a number as I wanted it to be, and I was still humming the tune long after the song had finished.
Pictured: Jade Ewen as Jasmine and Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin. (Photo credit: Deen van Meer/Disney).
It’s also the best vocal performance from both Dean John-Wilson (Aladdin) and Jade Ewen (Jasmine); the chemistry between the romantic leads is believable and they make a pretty picture against a star-strewn backdrop.
In answer to my final question – would the genie meet Robin Williams’ standards? – I could go on and on. Virginia-born Trevor Dion Nicholas is undoubtedly the star of the show, and received a major round of applause the moment he appeared on stage.
Obviously his sterling reputation has followed him across the ocean from the states; thank you America for lending this musical theatre titan to London for the foreseeable future. Sassy, hilarious and amazingly talented, it’s worth visiting Aladdin just for a glimpse of this man’s extraordinary display of stamina and enthusiasm.
Do I have any criticism? Only that at times the performance has a slight pantomime feel to it; which bothered me because I’ve been explaining to friends for a long time that no, the London Aladdin is not a pantomime, it’s a huge West End production in its own right.
Sadly Jafar and Iago, Aladdin’s opponents – played by Don Gallagher and Peter Howe respectively – took their role as the ‘baddies’ to a whole other level, and were actually hissed at the end, in true panto style. That I could have done without.
Overall, however, Aladdin is a must-see musical; I couldn’t recommend buying tickets more. Grab your group members, your children, your grandkids, your neighbours, and in the words of Princess Jasmine, any old Tom, Dick or Hussain, and book your tickets now. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Aladdin is booking until February 2017 at the Prince Edward Theatre in Leicester Square. Group rates are available for parties of 12 or more.
Lead image: Trevor Dion Nicholas as the genie. (Photo credit: Deen van Meer/Disney).