Aladdin (Disney Theatrical Productions)
July 26 2016 – March 26 2017
The theatre is a place where wishes can come true… there has never been a more apt description of experience of “Aladdin”. The magic begins before audience members even take their seats with the Capitol Theatre awash in the riches of Arabian decor and lush purple lighting. The aesthetic continues on stage with colour popping from every place in the opening ‘Arabian Nights’ number introduction to the fabled city of Agrabah, a place where even the poor people are fabulous and everyone dances… in exquisite, lavishly-detailed costumes (thanks to two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes) .
The show is not just a feast for the eyes though; its clever script is peppered with puns and pop culture mentions for adults and slapstick moments for younger audience members. As Aladdin, Ainsley Melham is charismatically cheeky as the pragmatic protagonist. And from his early number ‘Proud of Your Boy’ sung about his unnamed mother in promise to make things right, it is clear that he sure can sing. As the spirited Princess Jasmine of Agrabah, weary of her life of palace confinement, Hiba Elchikhe similarly has a voice as big as her hair in ‘These Palace Walls’. And in ‘A Million Miles Away’, their voices blend beautifully in reveal of the unhappiness in their respective lives.
There are no weak links in supremely talented cast. As Jasmine’s father, the longstanding Sultan ruler of Agraba, George Henare anchors things, along with Adam Murphy as the amoral antagonist Jafar, who is at once commanding and playful in panto-esque banter with offsider Aljin Abella as Iago (now a person rather the parrot of the Academy Award winning animated film). Comedy comes also from Aladdin’s entourage who are all engaging in befuddled boy-band interactions. And their ‘High Adventure’ Act Two storm of the palace to rescue their friend gives them a welcome chance to shine.
But nothing can take away from manic energy of Aladdin’s sassy BFF genie (Michael James Scott) who owns the stage in his every flamboyant appearance thanks to plenty of personality and honed comic timing. He is one of the US imports in this production (having played the role on Broadway) and the show is immensely richer for it.
Every production element is on point. Nothing is purely functional; every detail is there to add to its opulent aesthetic. The band is brilliant in fusing of Middle Eastern rhythms with jazz in catchy numbers like ‘Prince Ali’. And six time Tony-winning Natasha Katz’s lighting design is absolutely sublime, not just in provision of beautiful panoramas and capture of bustling marketplace scenes, but even in darker moments as Jafar and Iago are told that as the ‘diamond in the rough’, only Aladdin is worthy of entry into the Cave of Wonders.
The staging in the legendary cave is utterly spectacular in its explosion of golden excess, with every production element contributing to its wonder. And, ‘Friend Like Me’, the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman song, performed by Robin Williams’ Genie in the original 1992 Disney film, is perhaps the greatest ever full-ensemble musical number, worth the price of admission alone and deserving of its mid-show standing ovation. And then there is Alan Menken and Tim Rice’s iconic ‘A Whole New World’ during which the spectacle of seeing Aladdin and Jasmine flying through ‘an endless diamond sky’ atop an enchanted carpet, thanks to the illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer’s magic, which also garners mid-song awes and applause.
The adapted Middle-Eastern folk tale story of a young ‘street rat’ living in poverty who falls in love with an unattainable Princess, also trapped by circumstance, until he finds, through rubbing an oil lamp, a powerful genie able to grant his wishes, has all the ingredients to have inspired countless incantations. So it is little surprise that when it opened on Broadway in 2014, it was to both critical acclaim and house records. This big, bright, bold Broadway musical is even bigger, brighter and bolder than any anticipation… unsurprising given its size as one of the largest productions ever mounted in Australia (with a total cast of 37, a staggering 337 costumes and 70 tonnes of scenery and automation and 1 225 different fabrics).
In the case of “Aladdin”, the ravers really are right. The theatricality and sumptuous state of the art production at its core makes it an incredible, joyous experience, regardless of age, sure to take any audience member to descriptive superlatives in recall of its experience as an unforgettable theatrical event.