Prince Edward Theatre, London – A Delfont Mackintosh Theatre
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
As a much-watched and much-adored film in my youth, the recently-opened West End production of Disney’s animated classic Aladdin has been on my “must see” list since it made the move from Broadway to UK shores in June of last year. After far fewer than “One Thousand and One Nights,” I was fortunate enough to take a magic carpet ride to London’s Prince Edward Theatre last week for a weekday evening performance of this magical musical extravaganza.
And the show more than lived up to my elevated expectations! Obviously in its conversion from animated cells to the stage some elements had to be excised (Aladdin’s simian sidekick, Abu; Jasmine’s loyal pet tiger, Rajah), while their absence was filled by new human characters (a trio of plucky street-rat pals for the titular urchin; a trio of handmaids for the independently-minded Princess).
Elsewhere, dastardly comic relief Iago (Nick Cavaliere) retains his parrot mannerisms but takes on a diminutive human shell, while the limitations of live special effects mean the personality-enhanced magic carpet’s role is reduced to one (admittedly stunning) musical number and a couple of references in the dialogue.
But, most importantly, the humour, romance and spirit of adventure which made the film a hit with children of all ages has been retained! The six iconic Alan Menken and Howard Ashman sing-along numbers (including “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali” and “One Jump Ahead”) have been joined by a further seven, three of which were originally written for (but ultimately cut from) the film, while four are newly penned by Menken.
From the busy and dusty Agrabah marketplace to the Sultan (Irvine Iqbal)’s lofty palace and the golden treasure-laden room of the mystical tiger-headed sand cave, the set design is quite simply jaw-dropping; resplendent, bustling, colourful and dynamically diverse.
The banter between power-hungry Grand Vizier, Jafar (Don Gallagher), and his quirky dolt of an assistant comes close, but it is Trevor Dion Nicholas as the cheeky, quip-loaded, lamp-freed Genie who steals the show (much like Robin Williams did on screen). With trapdoor ‘magic’ entrances and a run of anachronistic pop culture references, the Genie acts as an audience-settling compere, sweeping us up and guiding us through this joyous Arabian Niiiiight.
Speaking of night, my final point of praise must go to Aladdin (Matthew Croke) and love interest Jasmine’s (Jade Ewen) night-time ride above the city of Agrabah. The magic carpet’s flying effects and the fondly remember ballad “A Whole New World” combine to create a spell-binding, tear-induced centrepiece which had me seriously wondering how the producers pulled off such a flawless and magical stunt.
CR@B’s Claw Score: