LondonMusicalReviewWest End

Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre, London

Writer:Chad Beguelin
Director and Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw

Lyricists: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin
Composer: Alan Menken
Reviewer: Paul Couch

Back in 1978, the poster tag-lines for Richard Donner’s epic Superman movie promised: “You will believe a man can fly”. We didn’t – the effects were pretty rudimentary and, frankly, disappointing but that cannot be said of the Broadway transfer of Disney’s live-action Aladdin.

Aida, The Lion King, Beauty &The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Tarzan have all been adapted from the original animated feature to live stage shows, with varying degrees of success. The Jungle Book and Frozen are next in line for the treatment.

Despite a rocky start in Toronto and on Broadway that included many rewrites and some brutal criticism, Aladdin has already picked up 20 Grammy awards, 19 Tonys and 13 Oscars. This isn’t by any means a cheap production either; in all, the 37 cast go through over 350 costumes and a mountain of Swarovski crystals.

In London, the titular role in this spectacular show goes to Dean John-Wilson, who makes a recognisable carbon-copy of his animated “Agrabah street rat” counterpart. With powerful vocal abilities, and a physicality to match, the former Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist who also appeared in From Here To Eternity at Shaftesbury Theatre and the National Theatre’s Here Lies Love (Miss Atomic Bomb, in which he also appeared, lived up to its name) he brings to life quite credibly one of the Disney empire’s most beloved creations.

Whether a believable chemistry yet exists between John-Wilson and his Princess Jasmine, former Sugababe Jade Ewen, is open to debate. Their love scenes are touching but ultimately unconvincing. Ewen is also making her West End debut but shows no sign of nerves and her Jasmine comes across as entirely naturalistic and an exponent of ‘Girl Power’ a millennium before the term was coined.

The big, blue shoes of the late Robin Williams were always going to be tough to fill but Trevor Dion Nicholas excels as Genie; for Nicholas’ London stage debut, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) has wisely moved away from the Williams paradigm and made Genie more of a Cotton Club jazz singer, giving the plus-sized West Virginian an exhausting, literal run of the stage. His energy is infectious and singing voice sublime. Bearing in mind that his debut on Broadway was this same show just a year ago, Nicholas clearly has a future ahead as a major presence in international musical theatre.

The antagonist of the story is brought by Don Gallagher as the Grand Vizier Jafar, again a replica of the Disney original but, endearingly, Gallagher’s version has a quirky, if twisted, sense of humour. Aladdin’s ‘posse’ (human not monkey) areNathan Amzi as Babkak, Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Kassim and Rachid Sabitri as Omar.

Truth be told, in shifting the animated movie to the stage, some wiser judgement might have been used. A scene when the hero goes to the Cave of Wonders to retrieve his treasure, the entrance – in the form of an obsidian tiger head, all blazing eyes and smoking nostrils – may have looked non-threatening on screen and paper, but when the tiger head is scaled up to the size of a house, it had one young audience member screaming in terror.

However, much of the rest of Bob Crowley’s staging is relatively simple, resembling a very high-end pantomime, but this description in no way denigrates its visual appeal – in some ways that simplicity helps to focus attention on the action, which is extraordinarily slick.

There can be no doubt that one of the major stars of the show doesn’t even appear. Without giving away spoilers, the show’s Illusion Designer Jim Steinmeyer has gone all-out to bring visual effects to Aladdin that defy both belief and gravity.

The catalogue of songs by the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Alan Menken are the stuff of ear-worms and adeptly performed. Nicholas’ Friend Like Me is hilarious, and even includes a cheeky nod to other Disney stable-mates The Little Mermaid, Beauty &The Beast, and Pocahontas, while Aladdin’s torch song Proud Of Your Boy (cut from the animated feature) tugs on the heartstrings.

The London pseudo-intelligentsia will no doubt be apoplectic over its childlike naïveté but Aladdinticks all the right boxes for an enjoyable, family-friendly night out that keeps all but the very youngest of audience members happy.

Booking until 3 June 2017 | Image: Deen van Meer

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