June 02, 2016
Please note: This is only a review of a preview. There may be changes before the official opening night on 15th June.
“Aladdin in London? Aladdin in London!” So went the excited exclamations from a number of friends when it was announced that Aladdin on Broadway was to become the even-more-exciting-sounding (for us Londoners anyway) Aladdin on the West End. There’s been months of build up with the purple posters displaying the lamp featuring prominently all over the tube and finally the second preview has arrived. There was a standing ovation at the first one so what could they possibly have in store?
The show opens with the Genie welcoming everybody to the theatre and instantly pulls you onside. Played by a vibrant Trevor Dion Nicholas, his enthusiasm and love for everything is utterly infectious; there’s certainly shades of Robin Williams about the character but this is very much Nicholas’ own take on the role and he plays it perfectly. Give him all the awards, give him all the awards now!” That’s what we’re thinking and we’re barely five minutes into the show. All the characters are introduced with a big song and dance number and we’re fully immersed into the world of Aladdin and Agrabah, a city that lays host to a multitude of street sellers and good food.
One of the first things you notice about Aladdin on the West End is the dazzling costumes, which have been encrusted with a number of Swarovski crystals that glint beautifully under the lights. The colour of these costumes too is a wonder and the whole wardrobe looks stunning. That being said, the sets are more functional than immersive in these early exchanges with a variety of sandy coloured towers for the actors to leap between and hide behind. It works solidly and allows the choreography of the dances to shine through, but you might be thinking that you wanted more.
Thankfully that arrives subsequently with interiors of the palace impressing and the introduction of Jafar, played with a wonderful Rowan Atkinson-esque quality by Don Gallagher. He displays a humorous meanness perhaps best compared to Atkinson’s school teacher sketch and he works superbly with his assistant Iago to deliver a number of puns and jokes to keep the laughter forthcoming as the plot gains pace.
Ask any Aladdin fan what their favourite moment is in the film and they’ll generally give you two answers – “That bit in the Cave of Wonders” and “The Whole New World sequence.” Thankfully, both moments deliver in spades with the former surprisingly more impressive than the latter, but not by much! It’s simply that Nicholas returns to the stage as the Genie as soon as Aladdin rubs the lamp and the whole play catches fire once more with a wonderful eight minute scene that references game shows, old Disney tunes from other films and a whole host of magic besides. It’s incredible and worth the price of admission alone. The actors actually have to wait for the applause to subside just a little and seem to acknowledge that since it won’t stop anytime soon, they’ll have to allow the show to continue themselves or nobody will ever leave. As such, the audience only stop clapping to hear the next few lines. It’s hard to put into words quite how brilliant “Never Had a Friend Like Me” is, so you’ll just have to see it to find out!
The magic carpet aspect of A Whole New World is a fitting blend of illusion and beauty that can only really work on a stage. The carpet seamlessly flies through the air, spinning slowly so as to enhance the idea that there are no wires at play; this really is magic being performed before your eyes! Aladdin (Dean John-Wilson) and Jasmine (Jade Ewen) deliver the song with a tender quality and we have to admit that we’re impressed.
So how does the stage play differ to that of the film? There are three friends of Aladdin introduced to cover up the absence of his monkey, who are certainly charming and deliver the requisite amount of buffoonery that sends the kids wild, but there isn’t really a whole lot more that’s been changed (from what we can recall – it’s been a while since we last saw the film.) The ensemble cast are particularly on point with a few of the larger, more epic songs – particularly Prince Ali where there appears to be hundreds of people rather than the fifteen or so that actually swarm the stage – and all in all, this really is perfect family entertainment.
The transfer of Aladdin from Broadway to the West End looks set to be a success with tickets already booking into 2017. As such, our review of Aladdin in London is a moot point but it’s always nice to know what to expect. In this case, this is a defiantly family friendly show and only the most sullen of teenagers won’t enjoy it. Unlike Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all of your favourite songs from the film feature, there are fun jokes in the dialogue and delivery of visual gags and you’re sure to have a great time, as embodied by the small boy behind us who simply could not stop dancing as we left the theatre. This is truly a magical evening of theatre for a child and you’d be a fool to miss it.
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By Henry Fosdike