Robert Tanitch reviews Aladdin at Prince Edward Theatre, London W1
Aladdin, the 1992 Walt Disney animated film, was an artistic and commercial hit. The art work was stunning. The coloured images were influenced by Persian miniatures, Arabian calligraphy, and photographs of Isfahan’s 15th century buildings and interiors.
There were also references to such films as Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Baghdad, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones trilogy and Disney’s own cartoons.
The star turn was Robin Williams’s wise-cracking and improvising blue Genie, who looked like a caricature of Robin Williams by New York cartoonist AI Hirschfield.
The music is by Alan Menkin. The lyrics are by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The book is by Chad Beguelin who has also written some of the lyrics.
Aladdin has been rubbing his lamp on the stage since 1788. But I thought this Aladdin was going to be a Broadway musical. It turns out to be a pantomime, just like any other, except that it’s tacky in an extremely expensive way.
Gregg Barnes’s glitzy colourful sequined costumes must have cost a fortune. There are so many of them. The cast is constantly changing. There’s even a parade of costumes to open the second half.
Casey Nicholaw’s production relies very much on the spectacle and the energy of the cast and the stage crew. The choreography has lots of energy but that is all it has.
It isn’t until Aladdin (Dean John-Wilson) gets to the golden Cave of Wonders (designed by Bob Crowley) and meets the big burly Genie (American actor Trevor Dion Nicholas) for the first time that the production actually comes to life. Nicholas, a very eager beaver, everybody’s friend, has to work very hard
Don Gallagher (who plays Jafar) understands the British pantomime tradition and is a perfect pantomime villain. In the movie Iago (Jafar’s side-kick) was a squawking Vaudeville parrot. The cartoon character is much missed. Abu, the monkey (Aladdin’s sidekick) has also gone; and he’s been replaced by three mates.
The magic carpet flies without any visible support; but it is not as much fun as the magic carpet in the movie, which, though it had neither face nor voice-over, was still able to express emotions. At one point, it managed,hilariously, to curl up into a position which visually said, “Oh, no!”
Aladdin, the Broadway musical, is much inferior to the Walt Disney movie and certainly not in the same league as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
The stage show is basically for family audiences who go to the theatre once a year at Christmas and the only theatre they know is pantomime.