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Disney's Aladdin (Milton Keynes Theatre / UK & Ireland Tour)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

A timeless Disney classic is back on UK shores for the first time since it concluded its West End run in 2019 and this time it is prepared to experience a whole new world. Well, Milton Keynes – where its magic carpet has currently stopped as part of its first UK tour. Would the touring production be able to recapture the same magic that had been seen on stage before or would it leave me wishing for more?



Based on the animated Disney film from 1991, the stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 2014, where it has been wowing audiences ever since, transferring to the West End in 2016. Set in the fictional city of Agrabah, it sees street urchin Aladdin stumble upon a magic lamp where a Genie grants him three wishes. At the same time, he falls in love with Princess Jasmine and has to find a way to use his wishes to help his situation while stopping the sultan’s Grand Vizier Jafar’s evil plan.

 

Chad Beguelin’s book takes the original story from the Disney movie and finds ways to bring it to the stage beautifully. While retaining all of the moments audiences know and love from watching the film on repeat, he is also able to make some tweaks and updates without losing anything from the story (you may be disappointed to learn there are no tigers on stage. You’ll have to go to The Life Of Pi for that). With contemporary updates added to the script and making the most of Disney’s growing franchises while including throwaway but humorous references to Star Wars and Marvel, it is a joyous story that falls somewhere between pantomime and musical theatre – the right blend for audiences of all ages and enough to make the younger audience members believe in magic.



Touring productions can sometimes lose a sense of glitz and glamour that you might find in the West End – a necessary evil to ensure shows can be packed up and set up in venues of all shapes and sizes all over the country. Aladdin still manages to retain a sense of opulence in some of its scenes, with the Cave of Wonders a gorgeous reveal. Bob Crowley’s scenic design transports audiences to the streets of Agrabah, the palace, and even the sky while encouraging imagination to play a big part of the action, with Daniel Brodie’s projection design bringing those harder-to-stage sequences to life in a pleasing way that is refreshingly no overly relied on, as was the case for a recent Disney revival. Casey Nicholaw’s direction is playful and precise, balancing the need to break the fourth wall and give a knowing wink to the audience while telling the story without losing anything from it.  Nicholaw’s choreography also brings the larger numbers to life with fun and flair.

 

If there is one thing Aladdin is remembered for, it is its high calibre of songs. With music from Alan Menken and lyrics from Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, some of these songs have stood the test of time for more than 30 years now and there is a good reason for that. The most memorable number ‘A Whole New World’ features a slightly stripped-back arrangement but still takes your breath away with its simple yet effective staging, creating an illusion of the magic carpet. ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Prince Ali’ are among other highlights, but the undoubted showstopper has to go to the Genie’s big solo ‘Friend Like Me’ which is every bit as big, bold, and brilliantly bonkers as you would hope, creating a total showstopping moment.



What furthers the material here are the songs not featured in the original movie – a mix of some that were written for the movie and cut and others that were newly written for the stage adaptation, they bring the narrative forward and provide new depth to the characters. The biggest of these numbers is Aladdin’s solo ‘Proud Of Your Boy’ bringing emotion and meaning to his journey and giving him more purpose than we would have previously been aware of, while Jasmine gets her own big number on ‘These Palace Walls’. Another great moment in the show comes from the Genie and Aladdin’s crowd-pleasing duet ‘Somebody’s Got Your Back’ – these moments all successfully add to the story while managing to separate itself from the movie and forge its own identity.

 

The cast that has been recruited for this production is nothing short of shining, shimmering, and splendid. Gavin Adams is the perfect recruit in the title role with his Aladdin charming, cheeky, and charismatic at all times, giving us a hero to root for and always be safe in the knowledge the stage will be lit up in his presence. Having recently been seen on Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream, Desmonda Cathabel is jaw-droppingly good as Princess Jasmine – a role it feels she was born to play. With all of the sass and confidence you would associate with the character, she showcases all of her strengths as a performer, particularly her astonishing vocals. Adams and Cathabel also display remarkable chemistry together, giving a sense of believability to one of the greatest love stories in the Disney universe



Adam Strong camps it up as Jafar, making the role as pantomime villain as you can possibly get, with an evil laugh that should be studied on how to get it right convincingly. Perfectly menacing in the role, the double act he forms with Angelio Paragoso’s Iago are some of the more humorous moments of the show, almost making you root for the bad guys. Almost. The standout performance of the whole show belongs to Yeukayi Ushe in his star turn as the Genie. Following in some pretty hefty footsteps, he brings a familiarity to the role while making it his own, effortlessly owning the stage whenever he magically appears. A true triple threat, his charisma carries the story forward, and his knack for comic timing and the best way to convey his lines for maximum impact hits every time.

 

Recreating such a loved Disney film on stage isn’t an easy task, and one that could have so easily gone wrong. I’m not ashamed to say this is one of my all-time favourites but hadn’t exactly resonated with it in the West End. That was truly fixed this time as I found myself transported to a whole new world with this magical production. Bringing the best of the movie to life while finding new ways to recreate it on stage was flawlessly executed thanks in part to a consistently breathtaking cast.  If theatre at its best can make you believe in magic again, Aladdin is certainly full of riches with its ability to do that. 



Aladdin is playing in the dazzling place that is Milton Keynes Theatre until 19th May before pursuing new horizons all over the UK and Ireland until January 2025.

 

Photos by Dean Van Meer

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