BWW REVIEW: Disney's ALADDIN Brings The Animated Movie Favourite To Life With Wondrous Colour, Comedy And Classic Broadway Musical Style.
Thursday 11th August 2016, 7pm, Capitol Theatre, Sydney
Sydney has been mesmerised by the stunning stage adaptation of Disney's Aladdin which opened to multiple standing ovations. The multi award nominated stage musical by Alan Menken (Music), Howard Ashman (co-lyricist), Tim Rice (co-lyricist), and Chad Beguelin (Book and co-lyricist); based on the Award Winning Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio; blends 'old world' styles from the 1920's through to contemporary high energy Broadway musicals with magic and pyrotechnics to captivate the audience.
The latest in the string of Broadway blockbusters to be transported south gives Australian audiences the opportunity to see their own home grown talent, apart from a couple of American castings, bring life to the characters they loved on screen. Given the movie's success, most audiences would be familiar with the exotic fairy tale's plot about the lovesick street urchin Aladdin's (Ainsley Melham) plot to woe Princess Jasmine (Arielle Jacobs) with the help of the enigmatic and exuberant Genie (Michael James Scott) whilst the sinister Jafar (Adam Murphy), with his own aspirations for power, tries to thwart their efforts. The translation to stage brings back some of Howard Ashman's original songs that were cut from the movie. It also sees the reinstatement of a number of characters that were in the original plans for the film but never made it to screen.
Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw's wonderful dance numbers incorporate a wide range of styles, from traditional Arabic dervishes, scarf dances, acrobatics, and tap chorus lines to big ensemble numbers reminiscent of the golden age of American musicals mixed with a liberal dose of Bollywood. This energetic precision performance is enhanced by Bob Crowley's breathtaking sets that display a flexibility and ingenuity that is unmatched and helps transition the show from big screen drawn animation to three dimensional magic and mystery. His expression of the Cave of Wonders is truly wonderful and imposing and his attention to detail is precise from the piles of riches to the intricately carvEd White palace walls that draw inspiration from Islamic paper cut-out art. The impressive set is enhanced by Gregg Barnes colourful and detailed costumes that draw on the textiles of the middle east and the surrounding regions of Turkey and India. Hareem pants, turbans, leather-worked belts and many, many sequins and rhinestones add to the drama of the action as the whole cast work through a phenomenal amount of costumes.
Fresh from the Hayes Theatre stage as Sonny Malone in XANADU, Ainsley Melham proves he is a force to be reckoned with as Aladdin. Melham is the full package of voice, dance and acting and gives 110% to the role. He has a beautiful physicality and timing to keep the pace rolling whilst knowing how to present a stillness in the reflective moments like the touching Proud Of Your Boy. He well and truly leads the dance numbers when supported by the ensemble but also understanding the need to be part of a team for the quartet piece with Babkak, Omar and Kassim. Melham gives the role the right balance of comedy and sensitivity to engage the audience and have them wanting him to succeed.
As Genie, American Michael James Scott is the other standout and he brings a certain African American style, comic timing, and gravitas that was potentially not available locally. Scott, who was standby for the role of Genie on Broadway, presents the magical character as a tribute to Robin Williams whilst still infusing his own personality as Genie is the only character that really breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. Like Melham, Scott is also a phenomenal dancer, singer and actor and really does steal the show, particularly in the extended, eight minute Friend Like Me, supported by the ensemble, that garnered a standing ovation partway through Act I.
Other import, Arielle Jacobs as Jasmine presents the Disney cutout princess as just that. Whether it be the script, direction or the execution, Jasmine is not given the same depth of character, expression and passion that Melham gives Aladdin and instead comes of a still very two dimensional. Whilst Jacobs has a solid full vocal for These Palace Walls it is hard to believe that the producers were unable to find home grown talent to fill the role.
The stage show sees the reinstatement of Hoard Ashman's vision that Aladdin's friends be three other petty thieves, Babkak, Omar and Kassim, presented by Troy Sussman, Robert Tripolino and Adam-Jon Fiorentino respectively. The three distinct characters are presented with a wonderful pace and physical humour and provide a more realistic support for Aladdin than the movie's monkey Abu.
The wicked team of the power hungry Jafar and his wise cracking assistant Iago are presented with delicious darkness by Adam Murphy, recently seen as Ron Edgeworth in GEORGY GIRL, and Aljin Abella. In contrast to the rest of the productions presentation in American accents, Jafar is portrayed as British which draws on the story's history as a pantomime favourite as Murphy presents the villain with a sinister authority as he schemes and plots to take over Agrabah. Abella captures the comedy of Iago, from his physicality that is still somewhat birdlike in reference to the movie's Iago being a parrot, to the shrill voice that alternates between challenging his master and sycophantically simpering.
For fans of the movie and those that like a full scale classic Broadway musical, you will not be disappointed with ALADDIN. Favourite songs are included alongside reinstated works that allow the audience to experience Howard Ashman's original vision for the fairytale. The 'magic' of the movie is created masterfully on stage through dance, acrobatics and Jim Steinmeyer's illusions. A wonderful night out for audiences of all ages.