Disney’s Aladdin the Musical, based on the beloved 1992 film, is an incredible spectacle that’s focused more on its visual impact than its storytelling – the definition of ‘style over substance’.
It’s the well-known story: ‘street rat’ Aladdin (an eager Ainsley Melham) who meets Princess Jasmine (an earnest Arielle Jacobs) by chance in the marketplace. Both feel trapped by circumstance – Aladdin by his poverty and Jasmine by her lack of freedom of choice – but both find comfort and understanding in each other. Of course there are many barriers in the way of their love: a scheming and power-hungry vizier, Jafar (Adam Murphy), Aladdin’s social standing and Jasmine’s need to see the Sultan’s approval to marry, but with the help of Genie (Michael James Scott) and a magic carpet, Aladdin and Jasmine find their happy ending in true Disney style.
The musical has tried to translate the magic of the film to stage and sometimes it really works – the magic carpet ride stunningly seems to defy logic – but there are some problems.
Chad Beguelin’s book has taken the movie’s plot and extended it, but unfortunately that extension comes with cheesy jokes and some redundant subplots (like the adventures of Aladdin’s trio of friends, a stand-in for his movie monkey sidekick) that detract from Aladdin’s arc, which is the rightful core of the show. The book is very family-friendly, with many of the jokes aimed at a young audience, and some wittier lines pitched for adults, but these are few and far between.
The extended running time has allowed for some poignant songs that were originally cut from the film to be restored onstage, like the moving solo for Aladdin, ‘Proud of your Boy’, written by original lyricist Howard Ashman. Even a few of the completely new songs written by Menken, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin, make for lovely moments (Jasmine’s ‘These Palace Walls’ comes to mind). But like many of the added book scenes, some of the additional songs are superfluous extensions that only detract from the pace of the show – in particular ‘High Adventure’ and ‘Somebody’s Got Your back’ (both sung by that needless trio).
Bob Crowley’s set is hit and miss in transforming the fairy-tale from film to stage. The seamless transition into the impressive Cave of Wonders is astounding, but some of the backdrops, especially the bright and colourful marketplace, are too simplistic and don’t dazzle as much as they could. Gregg Barnes’ costumes are delightfully vibrant and the choreography (Casey Nicholaw, who also directs), is, although a mish-mash of styles, impressive in its technicalities, and is executed with contagious energy by the talented ensemble.
In Melham’s fervent hands, Aladdin’s journey is enjoyable to watch unfold – he attempts to marry his yearning for Jasmine’s love with his integrity and longing to make his mother proud. And Jacobs’ burning desire to be free and equal in a society that so often overlooks women is compelling to watch. Their blossoming romance is a lovely element of the show and their second-act duet ‘A Whole New World’ is a standout moment, thanks to Ashman and Menken’s beautifully constructed song, the impressive visual effects and the charming performances of the leads.
The true standout of the show is Genie’s ‘Friend Like Me’ – on opening night the number provoked a mid-show standing ovation and deservingly so. Michael James Scott’s Genie charms with his humour and charisma and he handles the 7-minute showstopper with ease – not to mention the rest of the show.
Aladdin is a beloved Disney classic in large part due to Ashman and Menken’s beautiful score and the captivating love story at its centre. Despite some flaws in the book and direction, the music and central romance have translated well to stage and will evoke the same adoration for the musical as they did for the film.