On the stage at least, you would be forgiven for immediately thinking pantomime when you hear the show title ‘Aladdin’. Up and down the country, every festive season, the story of street rat Aladdin, his genie and the magical carpet is performed to eager panto goers, ready to cheer the hero and boo the villain, but let’s step away from that. Because this isn’t panto, this is a Disney Theatrical production to the highest degree. Large cast with a larger set, beautiful costumes, big dance numbers and spectacular special effects.
‘Aladdin’ tells the story of an orphaned boy, living on the streets of Agrabah, who finds himself thrown into a magical world that he could never have dreamed of. He wants to make a better future for himself, when wannabee sultan Jafar just wants to use him to his advantage. Aladdin is the diamond in the rough, the only one who can retrieve the magical lamp. But when Aladdin accidently becomes master of the genie, he tries his best to use his wishes to win the heart of Princess Jasmine.
In his professional debut, Gavin Adams plays Aladdin with charm and lovability. At first, his performance was so clean and polished, the character of Aladdin’s trademark cheeky rough around the edges side didn’t quite show but when we reached the number ‘Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim’ and really got to see him with his friends, that cheeky side really came out and Adams’ performance came alive. His bond with Yeukayi Ushe’s Genie is wonderful to see, fun and full of banter, showing Aladdin’s heart and kindness in a funny manner. Adam’s takes being the leading man in a grand Disney production in his stride, winning over the audience with ease.
Desmonda Cathabel (who you may have seen on TV recently in ITV’s ‘Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream’), plays Princess Jasmine here, perfectly embodying perhaps one of the strongest, boldest of the Disney Princesses. Jasmine isn’t one for following the rules, she knows that there is more out there for her and knows that she is more than someone to be married of to whoever her father chooses. Cathabel’s vocals appear effortless, with ‘These Palace Walls’ and ‘A Whole New World’ proving to be particular highlights. Together Cathabel and Adams are your picture perfect couple.
Adam Strong’s villainous Jafar is the baddie that everyone loves to hate. Paired with the hilarious Angelo Paragoso as Iago (the parrot from the animated classic in human form), they are wonderful duo who bring comedy and evil laughs to their dastardly doings. The character of Jafar could so easily push Aladdin into pantomime territory; think smoke on every appearance, baddies enter from the left, goodies from right kind of thing, but Strong and Paragoso balance it just right and there wasn’t a ‘boo’ in sight. Jo Servi plays the regal Sultan, father of Jasmine, with passion and heart.
Whilst Iago the parrot gets the animal to person treatment in this screen to stage adaptation, the same can’t be said for Raja the tiger and Abu the monkey. Gone are Jasmine and Aladdin’s animal companions, instead replaced with three human friends. We don’t get to know the names of Jasmine’s three, but they provide a listening ear for the frustrated feeling trapped princess. It is Babkak (Nelson Bettencourt) Omar (Adam Taylor) and Kassim (Nay-Nay) who accompany Aladdin, and these three quickly become fan favourites with their cheekiness and want to help Aladdin succeed, even if they don’t always agree with his methods. Their act 2 number ‘Somebody’s Got Your Back’ alongside Aladdin and Genie was a personal favourite of mine along with the brilliant ‘High Adventure’.
The Genie. It wouldn’t be Aladdin without him, the famous larger than life magical being that drives the story along. As the Genie, Yeukayi Ushe absolutely shines. Performing a role made famous by the late great Robin Williams can’t be easy, but Ushe makes the role his own. His genie is cheeky, but full of heart, you get a sense that really all the genie wants is a friend and he finds that in the kind hearted Aladdin. ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ are huge production numbers, which earn huge applause, and Ushe makes leading them look easy.
The ensemble play countless roles and showcase some of the quickest changes I’ve seen on stage; from residents of Agrabah to sultan’s guards and genies magical back up dancers, it’s an impressive feat.
Bob Crowley’s set design paired with Gregg Barnes costumes are a sight to behold. ‘A Whole New World’ is pure Disney magic and seeing as I’ve seen this show twice in London and now once on tour, I still can’t work out how the magic carpet works. The show as a whole oozes glitter and gemstones, only heightening the magical feel.
Overall, Aladdin is everything you could want in a Disney stage musical. Its big, bold, colourful and magical and whilst it may not be a pantomime, it is still the perfect show to introduce children to the magic of theatre.