18 January 2024
Over recent years there have been a number of musicals produced which are primarily aimed at the younger audience; two of which come to mind, ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’; both productions I reviewed at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Both shows were thoroughly disappointing. Unmagical and unimaginative and lacking a spark. Move over you two, Disney’s Aladdin is here and it is everything those shows were not.
This tremendously entertaining and uplifting show is pure Disney in so many ways; it is like watching the animated film come to life. Except for a few updates in the script, which are well done, this is untampered with, no sub-textual messaging, no political realigning. This is just joyful theatre for everyone.
The simple story of the street urchin Aladdin who makes good via a magic lamp has many iterations and the book in this instance is packed full of fun, colour and tremendous performances.
The cast is lead by Gavin Adams in the title role – making a pretty stunning professional stage debut. He has a cheeky glint in his eye, a charm, dances with ease and had the voice of an angel – he even looks like a Disney character; a spot on piece of casting and a winning performance on every level. Desmonda Cathabel is a glamorous and feisty Princess Jasmine with a super voice and there is some nice chemistry between the two lovers. Adam Strong channels a combination of Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman and Vincent Price producing his lip-curling villain, Jafar – a top drawer villain which is performed with relish. Jafar’s sidekick (a parrot in the original animated film) is given human form as the oft-repeating Iago by Angelo Paragoso who provides much comedy – these are a great comic duo. Aladdin’s three friends, Kassim, Babkak and Omar are given enormously fun characters by Nay-Nay, Nelson Bettencourt and Adam Taylor – all show their performing skills to the max.
The ensemble work incredibly hard throughout – playing multiple smaller characters and changing costumes with speed and efficiency; the standard of their singing and dancing is very high.
Have I forgotten anyone? No? Well, it is a bit of a wait for him to appear from the lamp, but when he does Yeukayi Ushe raises the whole show into the stratosphere with his sassy, energetic, camp and exuberant turn as the Genie. It is a performance that sends a charge through the auditorium and broadens the existing smiles as wide as they can go. I will be surprised if I see a better comedy musical performance this year. He has a wonderful voice, both spoken and singing and can dance with the best of them. The standout routine of the night is his tour-de-force ‘Friend Like Me’ – along with the ensemble it has everything thrown at it and the audience is wowed to the rafters.
You don’t expect anything other than greatness from veteran set designer Bob Crowley and he doesn’t disappoint; the sets are colourful, unfussy and stunning – not least inside the cavern where Aladdin finds the lamp; a glitteringly awesome set. The sound is spot on – every word is crystal clear, as is every note of the cracking orchestra under Dave Rose. Lighting is atmospheric and so very carefully delivered particularly in the flying carpet scene – even being near the front of the stalls it was impossible to see how it worked – another triumph.
I am not sure how many costumes Gregg Barnes designed, but there are a huge number; colourful, sparkling and impressive – as are the amazing quick changes – theatrical magic.
Throughout, the music of Alan Menken enchants and the lyrics of Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin entertain with ease – along with the well-known songs such as Prince Ali and A Whole New World there are cracking numbers like High Adventure and Somebody’s Got Your Back. The direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw is high class and inventive throughout and the whole story speeds along like an express train.
This production is the best tonic for anyone feeling the January Blues – or any other blues for that matter – a show absolutely for everyone which is uplifting, fun and funny. No, it may not be the greatest show on earth, but it is one of the most unremittingly enjoyable ones I have seen where the production values are of the highest order and the whole cast and crew are at the top of their game.
A show to make you love life and love theatre. Don’t delay, buy a ticket immediately!! You won’t regret it.
CAST & CREATIVES
Aladdin – Gavin Adams
Genie – Yeukayi Ushe
Jasmine – Desmonda Cathabel
Jafar – Adam Strong
Iago – Angelo Paragoso
Sultan – Jo Servi
Kassim – Nay-Nay
Babkak – Nelson Bettencourt
Omar – Adam Taylor
Attendant – Harriet Millier
Attendant – Abbie Platts
Fortune Teller/Attendant – Dammi Aregbeshola
Razoul – Kerry Spark
Prince Abdullah – Aaron Elijah Patel
Ensemble – Hannah Amin, Erin Gisele Chapman, Tau-En Chien, Zac Frieze, Jared Irving, Sinead Kenny, James Lim, Luchia Moss, Joseph Poulton, Chris Ribz.
Music – Alan Menken
Lyrics – Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin
Book – Chad Beguelin
Director/Choreographer – Casey Nicholaw
Scenic Design – Bob Crowley
Costume Design – Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design – Natasha Katz
Sound Design – Ken Travis
Musical Director – Dave Rose