This year Matilda absolutely dominated at the Helpmann Awards, and after attending a preview performance last night, I’d put money on Disney’s Aladdin performing strongly next year.
What a spectacular feast for the senses! From the very first moment we entered the Capitol Theatre and took our seats, the air was crackling with excitement.
The Disney animated version of Aladdin was released in 1992, and skyrocketed to the #1 movie of the year worldwide. It then opened as a musical on Broadway just two years ago, and hasn’t stopped since.
The story closely follows that of the Disney movie: loveable street rat Aladdin falls in love with Princess Jasmine, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of the Sultan of Agrabah. There’s the suitably menacing villain Jafar (and his sidekick Iago) who tries to thwart Aladdin at every turn, and has designs on the throne for himself. But Jafar’s plan takes a wrong turn when Aladdin accidentally releases the Genie he was meant to deliver to Jafar. Thus, Aladdin finds a new best friend who just so happens to have the power to grant him his heart’s desire.
Aladdin must face many obstacles on his journey, but with love in his heart, a little bit of luck and a touch of magic, everyone might just live happily ever after.
The whole production is spectacular from start to finish. It’s slick, sultry, sparkly and sensational. The creative team have truly outdone themselves in bringing Agrabah to life. Stunning scenic design by Bob Crowley and phenomenal costumes by Gregg Barnes immediately transport us to an exotic land where the air is full of spices and the clothes are vibrant and opulent. Then we’re swept up and into a cave of riches, where safety sunglasses should be recommended due to the sparkles. Next we’re invited into the palace, where cleverly designed doors give us a sense of depth, and then we take Aladdin’s hand as he ushers us onto his flying carpet and takes us towards the moon and stars. Each scene change brings another jaw-dropping image to behold.
The entire ensemble work tirelessly throughout to evoke the old word charm of a distant land, exhibiting profound skill in multiple dance styles. They’re polished and precise without being clinical, and each has been allowed to let their personality shine through.
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice & Chad Beguelin (who also wrote the book), the musical has all the favourite songs from the film, like ‘Arabian Nights’, ‘Prince Ali’ and ‘A Whole New World’, plus some others written for the stage version. Each one is just as charming and enchanting as the next, and director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s sequences leave nothing to be desired. The show-stopping moment comes just before the end of the first act, with the Genie’s ‘Friend Like Me’. It absolutely brought the house down. Pure and unrestrained grandeur.
In the title role, Ainsley Melham is a complete delight. After the tiny stage of the Hayes Theatre, it’s great to see him owning such a huge space and excelling. Forming the rest of his motley crew are Adam-Jon Fiorentino as Kassim, Troy Sussman as Babak and Robert Tripolino as Omar. Talk about squad goals. These guys absolutely nail it, and provide some of the biggest laughs of the night. Fiorentino exudes charisma enough to charm a snake, Sussman has such perfect comic timing (“Did somebody say hummus?”) and Tripolino plays the audience like no other. #SquadGoals
But it’s not all baklava and pistachios. Every good story needs a villain or two, and dynamic duo Jafar and Iago are just that. At this particular performance, Jafar was played by understudy Dean Vince, due to Adam Murphy being unwell. Vince, who cuts a striking figure on stage, performed the role with aplomb. While the performance might have been a little short of his fellow cast mates it was still good. Especially considering his call was such short notice and there are some significant technical special effect issues to deal with. Vince should be applauded. Sidekick Iago (who is a parrot in the movie version) is played by Aljin Abella. Abella gives a spirited performance that, at times, borders on pantomimic, but his finely-tuned comedy skills add sophistication to his performance.
Undeniably the crowd favourite is Michael James Scott as Genie. His performance is nothing less than spectacular, and he has us hanging off his every word. Genie as a character is unmeasurable, and James Scott is more than up for the challenge. He is exuberant and wickedly funny, flamboyant, feisty, and almost unbelievably talented. He parades around the stage spearheading some of the biggest numbers in the show, and hardly seems to break a sweat. James Scott is the perfect Genie, and audiences will remember his performance for years and years to come. Local additions like the vegemite and “Wagga Wagga” is a nice touch.
Disney’s Aladdin is a cacophony of sound, light, movement and colour. It’s full of magic and intrigue, and is bound to delight audiences young and old. For those lovers of the film, you won’t be disappointed. You may even like this version better! And for newcomers to Agrabah, you might never want to leave.
Playing at the Capitol Theatre until further notice!
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now