Eight years since a Disney musical ( Mary Poppins) last flew it’s magical umbrella at London’s Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton Street’s beautiful theatre has swapped Miss Saigon’s helicopter for a magical flying carpet as Aladdin comes flying into the West End with an incredible cast, spectacular sets, sparkling costumes and fabulous visual effects.
Already a hit on Broadway, the Prince Edward Theatre was a hub of excitement when it was announced that Aladdin would be coming to the West End. But there is one difference with how Aladdin is seen between the UK and America. In the UK, Aladdin has been seen as a pantomime for years and is a classic in theatres over the Christmas period. So when the musical made the move to the UK stage, certain changes had to be made. Much alike the film, the cast speak with American accents pulling away from the English pantomime ideas. And of course, jokes had to be changed to appeal to the English sense of humor. Nevertheless, it is difficult to resist the urge to boo the bad guys and cheer on the genie.
I think everyone knows the story of Aladdin and most people have probably seen the 1992 Disney animated film. It’s a classic love story really, poor boy falls for a rich girl with a strict father. That’s the basic idea anyway. Throw in a bad guy, his sidekick and of course a magical genie and that’s Aladdin in a nutshell. The magic of the movie has been brought to the stage on a spectacular scale, with some of the most amazing sets I’ve seen and some very sparkling costumes with crystals galore.
Much alike in the film, where the famous and wonderful late Robin Williams gave his voice, the character that stands out and leads the way is, of course, the genie. Here, he is played by Trevor Dion Nicholas in his West End Debut. He was the understudy genie in the Broadway production of Aladdin and played the role a number of times there and now he has brought his incredible voice and wonderful fun personality to the London stage much to the delight of Aladdin audiences. He opens the show, introducing the audience to Agrabah with ‘Arabian Nights’ and instantly the audience falls in love with him and hangs on his every word. After the opening number, it is hard not to miss his presence on stage until he makes a reappearance when Aladdin rubs the magic lamp towards the end of Act one. It is here in the absolutely amazing roof raising ‘Friend like me’ with it’s multiple costume changes, magic tricks and thousands of crystals, that I saw an audience give a mid-show standing ovation for the first time ever and a very much deserved one at that. Trevor Dion Nicholas brings so much magic, fun and laughter to the character and gets the biggest cheer at the curtain call. He is a superstar and I, for one, am very glad that he made the move from Broadway to the West End.
The title character of Aladdin is played here by Dean John-Wilson and he really brings the character to life on the stage. With shows such as ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ and ‘From here to eternity’ already under his belt, I was very excited to see him take on this magical role. He brought Aladdin to life in a very lovable and sweet way, as well as showing his fun and cheeky side in ‘One jump ahead’ and alongside his motley crew in ‘Babkak Omar Aladdin Kassim’. He came to the stage with so much energy and the teamwork between him and Trevor Dion Nicholas is great to see. ‘Somebody’s got your back’ is sure to make you smile from ear to ear.
Another cast member making their West End Debut in Aladdin is Jade Ewen in the role of Princess Jasmine. Best known as being part of the pop group the Sugarbabes, this is her first step into the world of big stage musicals. I thought she played the part of Jasmine very well, showing her as a character full of determination and fire. Tired of being told that a princess has to marry a prince and do everything that she is told, Jasmine takes matters into her own hands and is determined to marry for love. Jade was able to show this clearly as well as showing Jasmine’s sweeter moments with her Aladdin in numbers such as ‘A million miles away’ and, of course, ‘A whole new world’.
I do also have to give praise to Don Gallagher playing the role of the story’s bad guy Jafar and Peter Howe in the role of his sidekick Iago (who in the case of the musical is not a parrot as in the film). Both were able to balance their character’s evil ways with comedy and fun. ‘Diamond in the rough’ is brilliant as both try to convince Aladdin to enter the dangerous cave of wonders in search of the magical lamp. It was very funny as Jafar struggled to keep his cool and Iago insisted that he stay in his ‘happy place’. Both were brilliant in their roles. Don Gallagher also manages to pull off three on stage costume changes, all taking place in a matter of seconds.
Nathan Amzi, Rachid Sabitri and Stephen Rahmen-Hughes play Babkak, Omar and Kassim, Aladdin street thief friends replacing Abu the monkey from the film. I believe the three friends were in the original story and there are great characters in the show. They perform one of my favorite numbers ‘High Adventure’ as they fight to rescue Aladdin and Jasmine. They bring so much fun and comedy to the show, with food related puns and slapstick. I also saw both Nathan and Stephen performing at West End Live, with Nathan rocking out Trafalgar Square with ‘Highway to hell’ and Stephen (Well Stehpen as the picture behind him said) paid tribute to the victims of Orlando with ‘Bridge over troubled water’.
Now, for a nod to the ensemble. There is so many costume changes in this show, 169 of them having to happen in a minute or less. I can only imagine the organised chaos that goes on in the ‘wardrobe village’ during these quick changes. Members of the ensemble quickly change from playing princes to palace guards or residents of Agrabah to Jasmine’s ladies in waiting. It truly is amazing. Also, the dance numbers are incredible and a true spectacle to see. Well done to this incredible ensemble. Stand out members of the ensemble for me were Michelle Chantelle Hopewell who brought her brilliant voice and comedy to the role of the fortune teller and Albey Brookes who played Prince Abdullah (coincidentally this is the fourth show I’ve seen Albey in, following three touring productions in Plymouth).
The sets and costumes are truly a sight to behold. The cave of wonders is breathtaking, the entire stage covered in crystals and gold. And talking about crystals, there is a total of 2100000 swarovski crystals used by the costume (figures courtesy of The telegraph) and 337 different costumes made from 1225 different fabrics. Everything is so colorful and beautiful. But there was one thing that got a great reaction from the audience and that, of course, is the flying carpet. It hasn’t been revealed exactly how the magic carpet flies and I, for one, hope that this stays a secret. I like the magic and want to keep it like that. As the carpet flies across a star covered stage, you can really feel the excitement and joy in the auditorium. Isn’t that just a magical thing about theatre in general, when the entire audience is amazed?
In conclusion, Aladdin is amazing and truly a spectacle to behold. Everything is grand and bigger than life. You will find yourself swept away in the magic of it all. The cast is incredible and the staging magnificent. If you want a night full of magic and fun, then all I can say is to head down to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is now booking into 2017, and ticket lotteries take place throughout the week. Do yourself a favor and let yourself be a kid again, believing in magic flying carpets and all powerful genies with Disney’s new West End Musical Aladdin.