Aladdin | Live Show Review

Mark Brown
Thursday, March 28, 2024

The show is so faithful to the film that even the most observant five-year-old would struggle to find fault with it

Yeukayi Ushe's Genie sings with tremendous strength and depth (photography: Deen Van Meer)
Yeukayi Ushe's Genie sings with tremendous strength and depth (photography: Deen Van Meer)

There is no such thing in Musical Theatre as a safe bet. However, if you’re a composer or a lyricist, you’ve certainly got a head start if the stage show you are making is an adaptation of a successful Disney movie.

Since it was founded in 1993, Disney Theatrical Productions has enjoyed enormous success with a series of stage adaptations based upon its popular animated films. The theatrical juggernaut started rolling with Beauty and the Beast, which was followed by the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time, The Lion King (1997).

From that point forward, there has been a steady flow of screen-to-stage adaptations, ranging from The Little Mermaid (2008) to Frozen (2018). In the midst of this output came Aladdin (2011), a show that has gone from strength to strength on Broadway, where it has played since 2014; in the West End (where it ran for three years); and internationally (reaching more than 14 million theatregoers worldwide).

The show boasts music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. ‘A Whole New World’ is one of the most popular songs in all of Musical Theatre. This tour of the UK and Ireland is further evidence of Aladdin’s immense pulling power.

One doesn’t have to be of a particularly cynical disposition to come to the view that the purpose of a Disney stage musical is not to surprise or innovate. The point, rather, is to reassure family audiences by giving them a live theatre experience that meets their expectations, based upon (often multiple) viewings of the much-loved film.

Like its theatrical predecessors, this touring production offers that reassurance in spades. The hyper-colourful design of the show evokes the movie continuously. Even the costumes are accurate representations of those in the film – with the exception of the waistcoat and hat worn by Aladdin in ‘street urchin’ mode, which are changed from blue to orange (presumably to contrast with the blues worn by Yeukayi Ushe’s Genie and Desmonda Cathabel’s Jasmine, the latter a recent finalist in ITV’s Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream).

The telling of the tale is equally faithful to the cinematic original. The early moment when the Genie inadvertently pulls a Scottish tartan hat from his pocket (rather than the story’s famous lamp) is the only discernible departure from the script. This little, local joke will, one suspects, be altered for each venue on the tour.

Otherwise, the show is so faithful to the film that even the most observant five-year-old would struggle to find fault with it. Ushe excels as the Genie. Wise-cracking, larger-than-life and singing with tremendous strength and depth, he generates sympathy with his yearning to be free from the confines of the lamp.

Adam Strong, as the evil (posh, English-accented) vizier Jafar, is, as he should be, a despicable (and entirely hissable) pantomime baddie. Angelo Paragoso is suitably snivelling, and regularly comic, in his human portrayal of Jafar’s anthropomorphised avian sidekick Iago.

Cathabel (balanced, as required, between winsomeness and feministic defiance) is impressive as Princess Jasmine in the midst of a generally strong cast.

However, Gavin Adams (who plays the titular lead) is a stronger singer than he is an actor, leaving one struggling to see the charisma with which he has seemingly charmed Jasmine.

This is an Aladdin, then, that has all of the glitz and glamour that one would expect of a Disney production. It lacks for nothing in colour or theatrical flamboyance.

With its reliability, though, comes a certain, and inevitable, predictability. One can’t help but feel that, for all of the opulent professionalism of its staging, it lacks the emotional and creative spark of less formulaic, more artistically innovative stage productions.

Production credits

Cast Gavin Adams, Yeukayi Ushe, Desmonda Cathabel, Adam Strong, Angelo Paragoso, Jo Servi et al

Direction, choreography Casey Nicholaw

Music supervision Michael Kosarin

Set Bob Crowley

Lighting Natasha Katz

Sound Ken Travis

Costumes Gregg Barnes

Alan Menken music

Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin lyrics

Chad Beguelin book

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today