Guest reviewer: Dan Frost

The long-awaited stage production of Disney’s Aladdin certainly gets an A for effort. Transferring from Broadway with much hyped attached, it’s an Arabian bazaar of stage-cramming song and dance numbers, effects wizardy, wise-cracking dialogue and innumerable costume changes. And it is, as you might have guessed, very American, full of swinging jazz hands, enough sequins to outfit a drag queens’ convention and levels of schmaltz that register dangerously high on the vom-ometer.

Where it is lacking is ingenuity. It might be helmed by The Book of Mormon director Casey Nicholaw, but this is a far more traditional beast. The film’s composer, Alan Menken, has written a slew of new songs to broaden it into more of an all singing, all dancing experience, but he hasn’t looked much further than the Broadway-by-numbers songbook, and certainly not matched any of his original efforts. The choreography is energetic and engaging, yet hardly compelling. There are some choice comedy lines, but also some painfully hackneyed moments that stray dangerously close to pantomime. And even Bob Crowley’s sets – save for one or two exceptions – are surprisingly underwhelming. Next to the puppet-based smarts of Disney’s most successful screen-to-stage adaptation, The Lion King, the whole thing looks almost banal.

But it’s not a bad show by any means. It’s unlikely to become a classic but should keep the tourists happy for several years to come. A sluggish start is soon forgotten with the arrival of Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie, whose camp comic relief is by far the most enjoyable element of the show. Much like Robin Williams in the film version, he fires off pop culture references faster than you can process them, and milks his big number, Friend Like Me, for all its worth. It’s a huge show-stopper that hurls wave upon wave of dancers and stage tricks at the audience, dazzling us into dizzy applause at the half way point. And it’s only really topped by the famed carpet ride in A Whole New World, where Aladdin (Dean John-Wilson) and Princess Jasmine (Sugababes’ Jade Ewen) appear to fly without strings around a beautifully starlit stage. As theatrical spectacles go, it’s probably one of the most technically impressive.

So, even if it doesn’t really push any boundaries, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. And its core audience – day-tripping families ­– are unlikely to have many complaints. It’s fun, energetic and occasionally impressive.

Just don’t go expecting a whole new world.

 

Booking until 11 February 2017.  Note of caution: if you Google ‘Aladdin Tickets’ you’ll get two pages of agencies who will apply additional charges and fees – we think the official lowest-cost sources are this Disney site and the Delfont-Mackintosh Theatres ticketing site