Aladdin – Edinburgh Playhouse

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Music: Alan Menken

Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice & Chad Beguelin

Director: Casey Nicholaw

As the winds of the East collide with the setting sun of the west, Edinburgh becomes the home for a familiar but still refreshing spin on a beloved tale. Older than the sands, Disney’s Aladdinbrings the kingdom of Agrabah, a city of mystery and enchantment, to the Edinburgh Playhouse.

Aladdin continues the magic as it brings the beloved comedic animated musical onto the stage following its successful West End stint. It’s the tale of a down-on-his-luck ‘street rat’ Aladdin, who pushes against poverty and stigma to rise from being a thief (to survive) into someone respectable. But it all changes when he encounters the Princess Jasmine. Tired of endless suitors and the constrictions of Palace life, Jasmine looks for more control. The answer for them both might reside in a magical lamp possessing phenomenal cosmic powers. A lamp which may only be claimed by a “diamond in the rough”.

Taking off their shirt and throwing on the fez, Gavin Adams turns in as roguish a charm as one would hope for the titular main character. Charismatic and likeable, there’s an immediate spark with the audience, many of whom have grown up with Brad Kane’s iconic performance. Yet Adams makes this role his: spritely and gifted with a strong vocal presence. Adams takes to Nicholaw’s choreography with relish – standing firm even as the stunt work makes its way above stage level. Nicholaw’s direction imparts a constant sense of motion – whether through the characters and stunts, or Bob Crowley’s constantly rotating set pieces.

Indonesian performer Desmonda Cathabel (currently competing in ITV’sMamma Mia: I Have a Dream) ensures that the hopes and excitement of thousands of young audiences remain, playing Disney’s first non-white princess, Jasmine. Jasmine’s journey and push for agency is as integral to the story as Aladdin’s acceptance of who he is, Cathabel delivers a sincere yet stern Jasmine who is openly defiant to the expectations of the men who plan her life for her. But there’s levity and joy in the way Cathabel holds themselves in the latter moments of the production, and is a delight to watch them perform. But while Aladdin takes up a new persona to win her heart, someone else is vying for Jasmine’s hand, and they have nothing but vile, villainous, vexing and verminous motivations behind this…

In a near-panto performance, Adam Strong’s Jafar reigns Agrabah from the shadows, the second-in-command of the kingdom behind the blundering and bouncingly adorable Sultan (played by Jo Servi). Devouring every cape flourish, thanks to Gregg Barne’s costume design, Strong’s Jafar is as impactful and exuberant as possible. And while the production doesn’t include Jafar’s originally cut songs, it does introduce a new number, Diamond in the Rough, which allows Strong to stretch their more rock-orientated vocals.

But for all the musical numbers in the show, one is anticipated amongst the rest. Perhaps no other Disney tune carries the legacy of the one-in-a-lifetime talent that was Alan Menken quite likeA Whole New World. And the production recognises this. Filled to the brim with glittering treasures and jewels, crammed with mystery and enchantment, the magic carpet is the show-stopping moment of the show. With swirls and twists, spins and superb score composition, very few can manage the stage magic that Disney theatrical can. It’s likely to be a scene many in the audience will carry for years to come.

There’s no need for all three of those wishes: the Playhouse grants them all in one. The magic raises a smile across the audience, and that’s the one thing we could all do with right now. With a bit of sun and a hearty laugh, this is a gloriously told story of agency and acceptance: a night of memories awaits those who take the leap and trust in Aladdin.

Runs until 18 November 2023 | Image: Deen Van Meer

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