Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Aladdin

There’s more panto than pizzazz in this stage version of the magical tale, but it’s still an enjoyable (carpet) ride

Written by Richard Barber


William, my eight-year-old neighbour in the stalls of the Prince Edward Theatre, was beside himself with excitement. The Disney film of Aladdin was one of his all-time favourites, he said, so he couldn’t wait to see it brought to life on stage.

I was looking forward to it, too, given that it arrived in London trailing huge success on Broadway, both critical and popular. In the event, though, and at the risk of sounding a bit like the Grinch, I was rather underwhelmed by a spectacle that lacked a lot of the pizzazz of the cartoon, rendering it not much more than a pantomime, albeit a lavish one.

Richard-Barber-colour-176The story is familiar. Poor boy falls in love with princess who must marry someone of noble birth. There’s a baddie, Jafar, intent on taking over the kingdom, lots of disguises, a carpet and a lamp (both magic), and, of course, a genie. This last role was written specifically for Robin Williams in the 1992 film, and with all due respect to Trevor Dion Nicholas, whose roly-poly, camper-than- Christmas incarnation is a lot of fun, he lacks Williams’s idiosyncratic, scatological genius.

The music by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, immediately feels familiar, especially in the case of A Whole New World, which Aladdin and Princess Jasmine sing to one another on their (rather tepid) magic carpet ride. Dean John-Wilson, last seen in Miss Atomic Bomb opposite Catherine Tate, is Aladdin to the manner born – the cartoon character brought to 3D life, even down to his carefully curled fringe. Jade Ewen, meanwhile, a sometime Sugababe, is a perky, pretty presence with a crystal- clear singing voice and a nice comic touch.

Both the leads play their roles with American accents, which is fine except that Jafar (Don Gallagher) is clearly channelling Brian Blessed – presumably because you can only get away with baddies being British. But then the producers can’t seem to make up their minds. There’s a reference to Tommy Cooper, for instance, and even a nod to Brucie with ‘Nice to see you’ etc.

There’s no Iago the parrot as in the film, of course, so Peter Howe is Jafar’s human sidekick, and there’s no tiger either. And I missed Abu the monkey while understanding the reasons for his absence. But it all looks gorgeous. So what marks out of 10 would young William give it? ‘Oh, 9.9,’ he said, eyes round with wonder. Which just goes to show how much I know.

Until 11 February 2017 at the Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton Street, London W1: 0844-482 5151, www.aladdinthemusical.co.uk 


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