Disney’s Aladdin

Nov 6 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Spectacular

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 24 Oct – Sat 18 Nov 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Flying onto the Playhouse stage on the magic carpet of Disney, the big touring production of Aladdin which sets off on a 15 month UK tour is a big, sparkling concoction of fun.

Look behind those sparkles and beyond a rather shallow hint that no matter how gilded our cages might be, we are all trapped in our lives and the same under the skin – and there is rather less substance on stage than spectacle. But what a spectacle it is.

Yeukayi Ushe (Genie) and ensemble. Pic: Deen Van Meer.

For those uninitiated in the ways of Disney’s Aladdin, there are only two major points to note. Firstly that it could be called Disney’s Genie, so high up in the proceedings does Yeukayi Ushe’s stupendously engaging Genie stand.

Secondly, as Ushe says at some point in his major narratorial role, this is “the plot that you know, with a small twist or two”. No need to differentiate him as the Genie of the Lamp, for example. There is no Genie of the Ring. Just one Genie to unite them all, as it were.

beautiful froth

Which is a blessing, as there is so much beautiful froth to get through that the plot needs to be as bare to its bones as possible to get all that spectacle in.

And what a sparkling entertainment it is. Costume designer Gregg Barnes has put more sequinned and bejewelled costumes on stage than in a whole series of Strictly; while the dancers in the ensemble could give those Strictly professional dancers a run, or rather a leap, for their money.

The ensemble. Pic: Deen Van Meer.

Given the size of the stage, it is quite incredible how much athleticism the cast get in to their dancing, while they are drilled to the point of perfection in Casey Nicholaw’s original direction and choreography. With full credit to the touring choreographer Kella Panay.

As for the set pieces which need much space – the several chase sequences for example – Bob Crowley’s cleverly designed set ensures that even though the stage is small, it can all fall out splendidly as Gavin Adams’ Aladdin and his three sidekicks, rush in and out, always keeping one step ahead of Sultan’s gormless guards, before bopping them on the heads.

impeccably honed

Look beyond Jim Steinmeyer’s illusions, Natasha Katz’s lighting and Ken Travis’s sound design – all impeccably honed to fit the needs of the Playhouse – and you have a tight, energetic and athletic ensemble who ensure that the backdrop for the plot is always just right.

Musically it is all well and good. MD Dave Rose keeps it tight in the pit. Although the occasional hint of tunes from other Disney musicals does show up the lack of a big tune in Alan Menken’s score. It’s nice enough, but nothing to get you humming on the way home.

Gavin Adams as Aladdin. Pic: Deen Van Meer.

The principals put in solid turns. Adams deports himself well enough to stand out as The Diamond in the Rough and he has the vocal chops to engage the whole auditorium in his stand-out solo Proud of Your Boy. He will no doubt grow into the role over the coming months, but at the moment he still feels a little tentative when it comes to the acting elements.

No such issues for Yeukayi Ushe, who breezes the whole piece in every department. Despite having that easy ability to draw the attention and upstage anyone he cares to, he brings a generosity to his performance, ensuring that the attention is not always on him and is directed where it should be to keep the story humming along.

powerfully voiced

Desmonda Cathabel provides a great deal more than love interest as Princes Jasmine, in a strong, powerfully voiced and, where necessary, spiky performance. She creates Jasmine as her own woman, while ensuring that the ring-a-ting ting of fairytale love between her and Aladdin holds true.

Gavin Adams (Aladdin) and Desmonda Cathabel (Jasmine). Pic: Deen Van Meer.

Nay-Nay (Kassim), Adam Taylor (Omar) and Nelson Bettencourt (Babkak), give big, lively, physically comic performances as Aladdin’s sidekicks. There is not a huge deal for them to work with, in terms of depth, but they succeed in providing a vital voice as the embodiment of Aladdin’s conscience.

He needs one, of course, in the face of baddy Jafar, the Sultan’s Grand Vizier and his own sidekick, Iago, who are intent on tricking Aladdin into gaining the magic lamp for themselves, by sending Aladdin into the cave of wonders.

Adam Strong as Jafar and Angelo Paragoso as Iago give it plenty of comic chops. But in a production which is only a very small step removed from pantomime, there is room for a bigger, bolder, more despicably villainous pairing. They are great fun, but are just on the wrong side of bumbling to provide the real jeopardy promised in the fury of sound and light around them.

big, spellbinding and sparkling

Disney got into trouble for its “colour blind” casting of the first production of the musical, with white actors in yellow face. No issues of that here. Which has the undoubted advantage of ensuring that those elements of the Aladdin story that can appear as racist in pantomime versions, have no danger of being so here.

All told, a big, spellbinding and sparkling night out which delivers spectacle by the bucket load and will certainly please all the family.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes.
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tue 24 Oct – Sat 18 Nov 2023
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Sat: 2.30pm; Sun: 1pm & 6pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA
Wed 6 – Sat 30 Nov 2024
Wed – Sat: 7.30pm; Wed & Sat: 2.30pm; Sun: 1pm & 6pm.
Tickets and details:  Book here.

Gavin Adams (Aladdin), Yeukayi Ushe (Genie) and ensemble. Pic: Deen Van Meer.


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