Aladdin has finally opened in the West End with all the hype and expectations of a Prince coming into town to find his suitor. The much-anticipated Broadway production opened on the 15th at the Prince Edward Theatre and has already extended its run into next year.
The question everyone is asking is, ‘did it live up to the hype?’
It is true that the whole show is a spectacle from start to finish. Bob Crowley’s stunning designs and ingenious sets, coupled with Natasha Katz lighting and Jim Steinmeyer’s illusions make for a visual feast. The sumptuous colour palate used, inspired by the middle east, its art, architecture and fabrics certainly leave a lasting impression and do not hold back on going all out. That is true of the costumes and the sheer volume of sequins to be seen on stage. The whole production twinkles and shimmers throughout, adding to the sense of magic and wonder.
The trouble with Aladdin is, here in Britain, not only do we have the very successful and popular Disney film to draw upon, but also a long tradition of pantomime. While this new production is not a panto, an absence of a Dame, audience participation and known numbers attest this, the plot and dialogue are what you would expect from your Christmas entertainment. For me, I would have liked a little development on the love story between Jasmine and Aladdin. She starts off as a woman who knows her own mind and wants independence from her father and the ancient laws, but still falls in love at first sight with the first handsome stranger she finds. Perhaps that’s the just the Disney blueprint for their princesses.
The other panto-esque element was Jafar. Entering the stage in a green light and a cloud of smoke (evil laugh and sidekick to boot) his front cloth scenes of scheming and villainy again felt a little too close to panto, especially as some audience members felt the necessity to boo and hiss.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the production and it was great to see this wonderful amalgamation of Disney and Broadway at its most glittering. The highlight for me, and I would suspect for anyone visiting this show, is the Genie.
Everyone loves the character from the film. The late, great Robin Williams was the perfect actor for the role and his performance coupled with the animations made one of the best loved Disney characters in history. And with that in mind, the producers and writers have, very sensibly, not tried to recreate that on stage. Sure some of the dialogue is the same (it’s the same story after all) but Trevor Dion Nicholas brings a new take and a new life to the Genie. The show is worth seeing just for his tour-de-force performance of Friend Like Me. The song is a marathon that he skilfully navigates, and production elements include a tap dance, fire works, many costume changes, moving skyscrapers and huge set pieces. Dion Nicholas is the perfect stage Genie, a fun and infectious character that never becomes overbearing or grating. He exuded an energy that pervades the auditorium and leaves you smiling throughout. Incredibly worthy of his standing ovation and more besides.
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