Disney’s Aladdin does everything it says on the label – no more and no less. As expected, this lavishly budgeted stage adaptation of the hugely successful 1992 animated feature is a slick, machine-made piece of entertainment that knows exactly what effects it wants to achieve and has the know-how to achieve them. If the term Technicolor extravaganza could be applied to a Broadway musical rather than a film, this is it – in spades!
Courtesy of Disney’s deep pockets and the creative imagination of set designer Bob Crowley, the stage of the Prince Edward is a never-ending spectrum of color, as Crowley lavishly recreates the Arabian city of Agrabah in all its exotic splendor. The sultan’s palace – with its evocative minarets and latticed interiors, magic carpet rides against a heaven of twinkling stars, and a sparkling Aladdin’s cave of treasures drenched in gilt and filled with wonders – is quite an eyeful.
The ear is less well served. Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman’s original score, whose best songs were "Friend Like Me," "Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World," have been augmented, with varying degrees of success, by Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the gag and pun-infested book.
The story’s the same – indigent young street beggar with a heart of gold falls for beautiful, down-to-earth Princess Jasmine and fortuitously meets a genie who helps him outsmart an evil vizier. It’s the age-old stuff of English pantomime – minus Widow Twankey, audience participation and interpolated variety acts. Nor is there any improvisation. Far from it. Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s direction is cased in cement. Apart from a couple of British references, the staging is identical in every detail to the one I saw on Broadway in 2014. In other words, it strictly follows the Disney philosophy: If it works, don’t alter a thing.
The result is a streamlined entertainment high in calculated pizzazz but with little if any emotional investment. It’s an efficient piece of theatrical engineering that’s bound to reap rich financial rewards.
The London cast is predominantly British. Dean John-Wilson is engaging and likeable as Aladdin. Jade Evans is a feisty Princess Jasmine. Don Gallagher and Peter Howe are the hissable bad guys. The only Broadway import is Trevor Dion Nicholas as the genie of the lamp.
Nicholas understudied the role in New York and is the undoubted star turn of the evening. His larger-than-life presence (quite literally) energises every scene he’s in. He’s the only cast member not upstaged by the visual effects, and he stops the show in the breakout "Friend Like Me" production number, which, as infectiously choreographed by Nicholaw, also pays tribute to the tap-dancing musical 42nd Street. It’s the highlight of a show with not much heart but plenty of professional know-how.