Hop aboard a magic carpet and get ready to be transported to a whole new world with Disney’s ‘Aladdin: The Musical‘.
Based on the classic 1992 Disney film of the same name, the musical features a book by Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. Alongside the popular and well-loved songs from the feature animation, including ‘Friend Like Me’, ‘Prince Ali’ and ‘A Whole New World’, the musical features an additional four songs written by Menken and Beguelin, as well as three songs written by Menken and Ashman for the film, which were not used.
Set in the fictional city of Agrabah, the story follows ‘street rat’ Aladdin, who dreams of rising above his circumstances, hoping to make his late mother proud of him. When he meets Princess Jasmine in the busy marketplace, he is immediately smitten, and is tricked by Jafar, Grand Vizier and advisor to the Sultan, into retrieving a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders. When temptation proves too much for Aladdin, he sets his sights on another jewel, and the Cave seals shut, entrapping him. Upon rubbing the magic lamp, however, Aladdin releases a Genie who has been shut inside for 10,000 years and, granted three wishes, Aladdin spies a way of wooing the Princess.
A diamond of a musical, ‘Aladdin’ is alive with unbelievable sights and indescribable feelings, a joyous, uplifting, celebratory piece that inspires us to focus, not on appearance, but on what lies within.
You could not wish for a better Genie than Trevor Dion Nicholas. The role marking his London stage debut, there is no doubt he is one of the strongest performers on the West End stage right now which, when the show closes, will seem a little less bright. Nicholas casts his spell over every single member of the audience, who remain captivated by his infectious energy, his boundless charm, and his engrossing charisma, as he doles out witty one-liners, busts a move, and serenades us with song. This iconic performance will be talked about for a long time yet, leaving behind a mark on each of our hearts.
Despite the Genie’s phenomenal cosmic powers, he too is trapped, bound to the lamp for all eternity, slave to the wishes and whims of his Master. Freedom will only come if his master wishes for his freedom, the chances of that happening slim to none. However, Aladdin states that he will free the Genie, as soon as he has had his other two wishes. The two find true friends in each other, and form a deep and touching connection as the two save each other from a lifetime of slavery, the Genie to wish fulfilment, Aladdin to poverty.
Aladdin lives on the streets, forced to steal food in order to survive. We first meet him after he has stolen a loaf of bread, and is being pursued by the palace guards. Disenfranchised with his own poverty, and the wealth of those who have everything, yet appreciate nothing, Aladdin sets out to discover his own self-worth, desperate to become something more than the lowly street urchin others exclusively label him as. Along the way, however, Aladdin learns an important lesson – that is, that he already had everything he needed, and only ever had to be himself for others to see his worth.
Matthew Croke shines as titular character and protagonist Aladdin. With an endearing mischievous glint, he interacts cheekily with his friends, dancing through life by forever keeping one jump ahead of those chasing him, evading capture by the skin of his teeth. Croke gives us a moving sense of guilt when he reflects on his thievery, and shows a man desperate to change his ways, and make a better life for himself. In a touching rendition of ‘Proud of your Boy’, Croke vows to make the character’s late mother proud of him.
When he meets Jasmine, the two find themselves kindred spirits, and Aladdin is moved to help Jafar in the hopes it will bring him closer to Jasmine. After showy displays of pomp and pageantry, with a little help from the Genie, Aladdin realises that Jasmine loves him, and we see the character undergo a positive growth when he understands that power, position and wealth are not necessary in creating a person of true worth.
Broadway’s original Princess Jasmine Courtney Reed steps into the role once more for a short period at the Prince Edward Theatre. A feisty, forward-thinking female protagonist, Jasmine is bound by the duties and responsibilities that come with being a Princess. A bird trapped in a gilded cage, she longs to be free and to make her own choices, so she runs away from the Palace, and from the walls that hold her prisoner. Reed gives a pretty, precise and very polished performance as Jasmine, delicate and graceful, but with a hint of admirable defiance, as she speaks out against being treated like a prize, a trophy wife, ready to be handed out to any Tom, Dick or Hassim. A spirited character, Reed’s Jasmine is a wonderful role model for many young women today, who are inspired to stand up for themselves, and decide their own futures.
With a sensitive yet passionate chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine, Croke and Reed make for a compelling young couple, a meeting of two people who are, despite their different circumstances and ways of life, very similar, both prisoner to something, both longing to be free, to fly a million miles away. Yet, it is with each other they find themselves to be home.
Fred Johanson is magnificent as Machiavellian schemer Jafar, Jermaine Woods his side-splitting sidekick Iago, who often parrots the former’s words. The two make for a deliciously villainous duo. Justin Thomas, Leon Craig and Julian Capolei are delightful as the dashing Kassim, the food-obsessed Babkak and the hilarious Omar respectively, friends of Aladdin and fellow adventurers.
An impressive feat of musical theatre, visually and audibly striking, the creative elements of the show immerse audiences fully in this fictional Arabian city, a middle-eastern delight. Bob Crowley’s incredible scenic design takes us from the bustling marketplace of the city, to the large, ornamental palatial sets, from the sand dunes of the desert, the winding staircase leading to Jafar’s lair, and then an endless diamond sky. The sets are breathtaking, cinematic in scope, and the transition between each one seamless.
The costumes are glittering and gaudy, intricately created with such attention to detail, and so colourful and vibrant. We see the rags of those in the marketplace, and how different they are to the royal wardrobe of the Sultan, Princess Jasmine, the princes, royal entourage and advisers. Natasha Katz’s lighting is beautiful, adding a depth to the sets, creating a three-dimensional, multi-toned world on stage. Jeremy Chernick’s special effects make this show even more magical, often to the point it suspends disbelief. The Genie rises and retreats from the lamp in a puff of smoke, the pages of a book turn by themselves, tables are filled with food and money appears on a platter, and there are more quick changes than you can count.
The Cave of Wonders is a particularly impressive set which, though from the outside appears cold and uninviting, is dazzling within, adorned with blinding gold. This scene provides the setting for ‘Friend Like Me’, the undisputed highlight of the show, which gets better and better as the song goes on. A powerfully memorable, toe-tappingly good sequence. Another of the show’s highlights, of which there are several, is ‘A Whole New World’, which sees Aladdin and Jasmine ride a magic carpet across a starlit night sky. This scene is certainly the stuff of theatre magic, defying expectation even as the carpet defies gravity, weightless in the extreme. There is a beautiful simplicity to this elegant set, but is is executed better than one could dare to dream.
A perfect homage to the classic Disney film, yet one with a blazing bravado to stand on its own two feet, confident in its differences rather than being a carbon copy, ‘Aladdin’ has all the ingredients to become a staple of great, family-friendly musical theatre. Though its West End run will come to an end on 31st August, this will not be the last we see of this show in the UK.
A shining, shimmering, splendid spectacle, you ain’t never seen a show like this!