Disney’s next big West End show, Aladdin, opened last night and it is spectacular. Before you ask, because everyone does, it isn’t a panto. After all, it is June.
The Americans don’t understand our pantomime tradition and probably think that they came up with the idea of Aladdin (even though we’ve used this Arabian Nights tale at Christmas for simply ever) – which is why you’ll have to excuse the American accents.
You didn’t know Aladdin was American? Natch! This is Disney’s big blockbuster Broadway stage musical, written by Alan Menken (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), and is based on the hugely successful animated film.
So, of course, everyone speaks American, even though Dean-John Wilson, in the title role, is from Middlesborough, his Princess Jasmine, former Sugababe Jade Ewen, is a Londoner and the Sultan (Irvine Iqbal) is from Bolton.
Don Gallagher, hamming it up as the evil Jafar (I think someone forgot to tell him it wasn’t a panto version), is the only one with an English accent (and he’s from Scotland) which is so typical of the Yanks who seem to think that the only a Brit can play a baddie.
Everyone else, bar one, in this huge 37-strong company is British.
The only member who isn’t is the show’s Broadway star, the sensational larger-than-life, Trevor Dion Nicholas who plays the Genie. Nicholas, who performed magic in the role in New York, steals the show. In fact, calling it Aladdin is a bit of a misnomer. This is definitely Genie the Musical.
The entire show relies heavily on his overpowering, razzle-dazzle personality (as did the film with Robin Williams voicing the Genie) and I fear for its future if his contract comes to an end before the show’s already extended run.
Most of the musical numbers – mainly by Menken and Howard Ashman – are unmemorable. But Nicholas brings the house down with Tim Rice & Alan Menken’s Friend Like Me, possibly the biggest, over-the-top, wonderfully eccentric, top dollar production number you’ll ever see staged in the West End.
This extravaganza of over-indulgence which, in just one number, features a big tap-dancing routine, pyrotechnics, a Strictly moment, a game-show segment, magic and a Disney medley, typifies Aladdin which, for its most part, relies heavily on style over substance.
The magic carpet (yes, a real one) will probably get younger audience members oohing but at my, almost entirely adult-only preview, it failed to elicit any response.
Bob Crowley and Gregg Barnes’ dazzling set and vibrant costume designs will charm the kids and make their parents reach for their sunglasses.
And Nicholas will enthral and entertain because that’s why he’s been brought over, no doubt at great expense, from America.
But it doesn’t have the charm or mass appeal of, say Disney’s The Lion King. Aladdin is big, brash, bold and presented in glorious technicolour.
The Cave of Wonders scene is truly that, a golden treasure that sparkles and shines.
Disney has obviously spent mega-bucks on this very slick production, and I’m sure it will be a must-see for families, but I felt like I was watching a show at one of the company’s theme parks.
The presentation is everything – and here it is spectacular – but it is hard to engage with the two-dimensional characters or Chad Beguelin’s flimsy story.
Aladdin, at the Prince Edward Theatre, is currently booking until February 2017.
Aladdin is a glorious spectacle, a visual feast and a magical musical, but its two–dimensional characters and flimsy story fail to engage.