The blowing sands and shimmering gems of Disney’s Aladdin has finally arrived in Melbourne. The animated world of the film created 25 years ago has been rejuvenated by the magnificent craft of the writers, actors and technicians involved. This allows for the show to be seen in a new light by those well-acquainted with the 1992 film, and for newcomers to marvel at the brilliance of the revitalised but well-known story. Chad Beguelin’s stage adaption takes much from the original, revealing a sense of respect for the version that has been etched so clearly in the minds of many audience members for so long.
It contains all of the classic songs that audiences will remember from Alan Menken’s original score as well as new songs, composed in Menken’s inimitable style. Accordingly, like many of the adjustments made to bring the story from the stage to the screen, the additions feel right at home in the world of Aladdin and sometimes add a new layer to the story. The most memorable example of this is Aladdin’s weighty solo, ‘Proud of Your Boy’, that was cut from the original film.
Menken’s score is handled with dexterity by music director Geoffrey Castles and the pit musicians, who never miss a beat. The distinction of their performance is perhaps no more apparent than in the dynamic showstopper, ‘Friend like Me’, which they navigate with precision and flair.
The music is treated with the reverence it thoroughly deserves, as many of the show’s most unforgettable sequences occur during the musical numbers – ‘Friend Like Me’, the spectacle of the opening tune, ‘Arabian Nights, and the staggering magic carpet ride that takes place during crowd-favourite, ‘A Whole New World’, rightly forming a vital part of the show’s appeal.
The dramatic sequences are no drags either, helped in no small part by the fantastic cast. Ainsley Melham is a great Aladdin, having a good command of the stage while also being attuned to the unassuming quality to the “diamond in the rough”. Hiba Elchikhe’s graceful performance as Princess Jasmine is also well suited to the role, capturing the regal elegance and independent spirit of the character, who yearns to overcome her confining social position.
Michael James Scott’s vivacious depiction of the Genie is similarly inspired. One of the hallmarks of Robin Williams’s performance in the film was his astounding ability to emulate vastly different characters with agility. Scott embraces this with comedic mastery and many accessible ‘pop culture’ references, adding a unique, contemporary sensibility to the show. He brings his own charismatic verve to the role, which procured a well-earned raucous and prolonged applause from the audience. Indeed, his prolonged but snappy efforts throughout ‘Friend Like Me’ is a real showstopper, demonstrating his abundance of talent and devotion to stage performance.
An almost unrecognisable Adam Murphy as the ever-scheming Jafar was also a highlight, containing all the wickedness and villainy of the classic Disney antagonist. Other noteworthy performances included Aljin Abella as Jafar’s sidekick, Iago and Troy Sussman as Babkak, whose tenderness for “quiche” achieved many laughs. The ensemble’s sequences were also well planned and executed, the complex and intricately choreographed scenes revealing a great attention to detail and providing the audience with many moments of amusement.
Another source of satisfaction, and perhaps the most acclaimed aspect of the show, was the elaborate set and lighting design that reinforced the tension and drama of the acting performances and story, as well as the grandeur of Menken’s music.
The imposing structures of the ancient East are skilfully communicated and costuming is a feast of colour for the eyes. Of the many varying scenes, the most striking include, aptly, the towering, sinister exterior and opulent interior of the Cave of Wonders and the Arabian marketplace. But it is a magic carpet ride that has to be seen to be believed that is perhaps most striking. It will leave you asking ‘how they did it’. The apparent technical feats of Aladdin are justified, as the otherworldly – things only thought possible through the magic of the Disney animation – occurs before our eyes.
Aladdin is highly recommended. Within the different aspects that make the whole, there should be something to appeal to all people regardless of distinction. Preserving all the comedy, drama and romance and the musical triumph of the original Aladdin and augmenting it with the visual and aural extravagance of musical theatre is a winning combination and an exceedingly successful artistic enterprise.
Aladdin is playing at Her Majesty’s theatre until 22 October. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketek.