Once upon a time, I used to be a wee lad who from time to time spiraled into a deep depression, even at a very young age. Eventually, I came to realise that the best way to recover from depression was through humour. Fortunately for me, there was a film that always managed to cheer me up and tickle my funny bone and that was Disney’s Aladdin.
I fondly remember popping my Aladdin VHS tape into the VCR and hopping on a magic carpet ride into another Arabian night. Now, with our current world in political turmoil and as we face the seemingly irreversible effects of climate change, we need our own form of comedic relief. And a bit of escapism couldn’t be any more relevant than it is now, especially for our own sanity's sake. So with that being said, does the West End musical of Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre live up to its 1992 counterpart?
The answer is yes! Not only does the show do everything right, but the Genie (Trevor Dion Nicholas) really brings the magic of the whole musical together. Trevor Dion Nicholas is brilliant, quick-witted and able to land a joke with perfect timing. His joke cracking comes so naturally that it made me wonder whether he was doing a bit of improvisation. While many references made by the late Robin Williams in the original film now seem outdated, Nicholas has managed to revamp the genie’s wisecracking repertoire, making reference to Christina Aguilera (“I’m a genie in a bottle baby. Gotta rub me in the right way honey”) and the popular meme “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Those examples alone aren’t even the tip of the iceberg as Nicholas spits out comedic lines so quickly and in such a rapid-fire fashion that it would be impossible to make note of them all in one sitting. You just have to see for yourself!
Aladdin is nothing short of spectacular when it comes to its theatrics, stage design and special effects. I marvelled at the use of cross-cutting (or split-screen), a technique in both filmmaking and theatre where two scenes occur in the same place at the same time. This device is used when Aladdin, Jafar and Iago march across the sandy dunes on the horizon in the background to reach the Cave of Wonders, robes swaying in the wind to block the sand, while in the foreground they are still talking to each other unrobed as if they had not even embarked on their journey yet.
The most impressive stage set-up was without a doubt the magical and mysterious Cave of Wonders, which is almost completely identical to the film design. Following Aladdin’s fearless leap into the tiger’s mouth, the scene shifts perspective and we get a glimpse of the inside of the sparkly golden cave with the tiger’s mouth inverted in the background. Witnessing Jafar (Don Gallagher) and Iago (Nick Cavaliere) egg Aladdin on from outside the cave’s jaws was a masterful moment in theatre to behold, and it must also be noted that Gallagher and Cavaliere’s delivery of lines was so clear and crisp that it was apparent that they had received years of theatrical training.
Aladdin takes an interesting approach when transitioning between scenes. Oftentimes, stage productions make use of a tableau, which is where one group of actors on stage remains motionless and frozen in their pose while the rest of the actors play out their scene. As the spotlight shifts to those in a tableau, the scene shifts along with it. But in Aladdin, while the set is being rearranged, a very simplistic conversational scene takes place against a gorgeous blue backdrop.
One thing that the Aladdin musical does differently from the film is that there is no Abu. Instead, three new characters were created to make up for the missing monkey: Aladdin’s friends Kassim (Daniel De Bourg), Babkak (Leon Craig), and Omar (Miles Barrow). The trio provide excellent comedic relief when the genie is allegedly lounging about in his lamp. De Bourg, who is also a dancer, singer, songwriter and model and was a finalist on the fourth series of UK’s The X-Factor, was certainly the standout star from this trio of characters and he performed the role of Kassim with such finesse that it’s a mystery why he has not already landed a starring role in the West End. In one scene he shouts, “Dignity!” and we get a flash of his pecs as they unintentionally pop out of his skimpy vest. This nip slip wasn’t the only hilarious moment from De Bourg. As the scantily clad trio led by De Bourg’s Kassim sprint their way to the palace, they end up breaking the fourth wall when they appear to be running in slow motion in the foreground only to have their cover blown when we see passersby in the background walking at a normal pace. This moment is bound to make even the quietest theatregoer cackle and guffaw.
To sum it up, Aladdin is the epitome of what makes great theatre. The flawless visuals were absolutely breathtaking: the colouful town of Agrabah, the fantastical Cave of Wonders, and the stunning starlit background when Aladdin (Antony Hewitt) and Jasmine (Jade Ewen) belt 'A Whole New World'. The music was also on point; ‘Friend Like Me’ is arguably better than the original while ‘Prince Ali’ featured remarkable staging as each float and group from the parade stormed in through the front palace doors. There is also much use of subtle humour. For example, when Aladdin is attempting to escape from being captured in the marketplace, a prickly cactus is tossed to one of the guards who then, to his dismay, catches it and tosses it to another guard. The two minions then begin a comedic game of Hot Potato, tossing the cactus back and forth as you can only imagine how painful that must be in real life. I was also pleased to see that my favourite line from Iago in the film made its way into the musical when he parrots Jasmine’s sassy line, “And I will have the power to get rid of you.”
Hopefully, the West End never gets rid of Aladdin.
Aladdin is currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre and is booking until 9 February 2019. If you are a fan of the film or just a fan of musicals, then you won’t want to miss this self-aware, innovative, hilarious and downright thrilling show, which is one of the best musicals that London has to offer.
Purchase your tickets to see Aladdin here.
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