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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Aladdin
Prince Edward Theatre   Summer 2016 - 

Imagine a generously-budgeted Christmas Panto. Remove all the guest stars from TV and pop music, reduce the traditional audience interaction to an absolute minimum, and generally bleach away the sense of slightly naughty fun that is part of the genre. 

The result will be much like this stage adaptation of the 1992 Disney animated film. 

It has its moments, but they are too few and far between, and your overall experience is likely to fall in the narrow band between being mildly entertained and mildly disappointed. 

As in the film, this version of the story plays down some of the sword-and-sorcery adventure elements to focus on the romance between street kid Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. 

They meet cute when she ventures out of the palace in disguise and again when the Genie's magic turns him into a prince. But along with foiling the villain, Aladdin must learn it's best to be honest to win the girl. 

The stage production (design team led by Bob Crowley) is colourful enough but rarely thrilling. The magic carpet ride – to the film's Oscar-winning song A Whole New World – is magical and beautiful, but the other special effects are generally lame, and too many sequences are played in front of a curtain while sets are being changed 1950s-style. 

Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw stages several big dance numbers full of girls in whirling veils and boys in puffy pantaloons, but they all have a generic Hollywood-vision-of-exotic feel. 

The Genie's big number, A Friend Like Me, comes close to stopping the show as it somehow evolves into a stage full of tap dancers, and there is a witty dance in which Aladdin's pals (who do more derring-do than he ever does) fight off an army of baddies, but a couple of choreographed chase sequences are just sloppy. 

The cast have clearly been forcefully ordered by their director to stifle any hints of Panto broadness in their performances. As is almost inevitable, the lovers themselves are pretty but bland.

Jade Ewen shows some personality as Jasmine (by which I mean she smiles a lot) but Dean John-Wilson's Aladdin keeps disappearing into the crowd, and there is no real connection or chemistry between them. 

As the villain Jafar, Don Gallagher works valiantly and generally successfully to keep us from hissing him or from in any way interacting with us. 

Which leaves Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie to become the star of the evening, through a combination of his unquestioned talent and simple default. 

Nicholas could not possibly match what I've always considered Robin Williams' greatest film performance. But he's big and loud and giggles a lot, and talks to the audience, and dominates proceedings so entertainingly that you feel the energy level drop whenever he's offstage. 

Aladdin isn't bad. It's just, at best, O K, and its audience expects and deserves more than that.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Aladdin  -  Prince Edward Theatre 2016    

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