Aladdin had a rocky start. First, it gave things a go in Seattle with a limited run that had distinctly average reviews. Then came a pre-Broadway try-out in Toronto with the same cast that was marginally better but still failed to wow critics. And by the time it reached the Great White Way (still with the same cast), it managed to divide audiences with many thinking it was the best thing since, well, The Lion King, and the rest like they’d come across an empty cave of wonders.
Now, Aladdin’s flying carpet is stopping by London. We have a new cast, a fresh energy (according to the bulk of the mainstream critics), some new jokes and a west end void of many competing family shows. It’s pretty safe to say that Disney’s stage portfolio has been a bit hit and miss, but does the London production have what it takes to become a classic?
Direction and Choreography by Casey Nicholaw – Mr Nicholaw has been working on Aladdin since 2011 during the multitude of productions, so he’s had a while to get it right and fine-tune everything. Unfortunately, there’s still some tinkering to be done, because this production largely falls quite flat. Few moments stand out amongst the general monotony, and the overall feeling is that this is more pantomime than large budget musical. It’s a shame because when it really gets going – primarily during the act one finale ‘Friend Like Me’ and the act two opening ‘Prince Ali’ – it’s full of energy. During the former, the roof is raised in the Genie’s big number and no holds are barred when it comes to everything from the visuals to the choreography. I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if 50% of the pre-production prep had been on ‘Friend Like Me’ and the other 50% on the rest of the show.
Writing by Chad Beguelin – There’s very little point going into the synopsis – everyone knows Aladdin, don’t they? But if you’re unfamiliar, it’s hardly taxing stuff: boy meets girl, boy finds lamp, lamp brings genie and three wishes, boy in disguise pursues girl, girl finds out he’s a fraud, bad guy tries to take over, boy and girl live happily ever after. Yet somehow, even though the movie version of the story on which this is based feels quite rich, Beguelin’s narrative comes across over-simplified despite the bloated running time of the production. Even with the extra scenes that have been added, the whole thing just seems a bit, for want of a better word, basic. Take the finale, for example, which comes and goes faster than a flying carpet. In fact, the conclusion to the whole story is over so quick, I left feeling like I would have been more satisfied if the scene hadn’t been there at all.
Set design by Bob Crowley – Let me start by saying I’m a massive fan of Bob Crowley’s work normally. But (bet you didn’t guess that was coming) it’s hard to leave feeling anything other than underwhelmed here. As per the overall direction, it very much feels like all the effort has gone into the cave of wonders scene, which does undoubtedly look stunning, with golden walls and piles of jewels taking over the stage. Elsewhere, though, it’s largely left to crude sandstone-coloured buildings (by which I mean a few boxes piled on top of one another) unimpressive backdrops and rags. It even fails to impress during ‘A Whole New World’ in what should be another iconic Disney moment. While the flying carpet is done in an inventive way (although from my vantage point, the wires could clearly be seen) the environment was little more than a very dark stage and some fairy lights from B&Q.
Music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman – OK, on to the good stuff. Going in, the music was the one sure fire hit in the production, and thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. While a few of the numbers have been rearranged and don’t quite hit home as well as the originals, the cast do a mighty fine job of belting out the ensemble numbers. The new additions fit nicely for the most part, most notably ‘Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim’ and ‘High Adventure’, both delivered by Aladdin’s new found friends (goodbye, Abu!).
The cast – I’ll admit that I was excited at the prospect of a new cast; Dean John-Wilson (Northern chap finding his feet in the west end), Jade Ewan (that girl what did Eurovision one time), Trevor Dion Nicholas (Broadway’s understudy Genie) and Don Gallagher (last seen camping it up in, well, everything). Are they better than the Broadway cast? That I can’t tell you, but what I can say is that Trev is by far the star of the show. Partly that’s because of the way the show is constructed, but it’s also partly because he makes a blooming good Genie, and from the moment he steps on the stage, the pace of the production changes. He is through and through a showman, and he won’t let you forget it. Elsewhere, the rest of the cast do a perfectly fine job, but they’re ultimately let down by the material.
- Dean John-Wilson (Aladdin)
- Jade Ewan (Jasmine)
- Trevor Dion Nicholas (Genie)
- Don Gallagher (Jafar)
- Peter Howe (Iago)
- Irvine Iqbal (Sultan)
- Nathan Amzi (Babkak)
- Rachid Sabitri (Omar)
- Stephen Rahman-Hughes (Kassim)
It’s a perfectly serviceable night out, but don’t bother going if you aren’t taking the kids with you. The cast do a fine job, but there’s only really one stand-out moment, and there’s no escaping that you’re watching an overpriced pantomime.
Aladdin is currently booking until 11th February 2017. Tickets can be booked on the Delfont Mackintosh website.
And the view…
Dress Circle, Loge 2, Seat 2. I’d heard about the fabled Loges at the Prince Edward, but had never sat in one before. They really are a lovely place to sit, and although you’re slightly off to the side, it’s by no means an interrupted or partial view. You also have the privilege of essentially being in your own box, but without having to twist awkwardly to see anything.