Aladdin

Aladdin
Music by Alan Menken. Book by Chad Beguelin. Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin. Disney Theatrical Productions Capitol Theatre, Sydney. Opening Night: August 11, 2016

It’s hard to get Australians to give standing ovations, but on opening night Aladdin got two, including an unheard of stand up half way through the first act.

What pushed the audience out of their seats was an extravagant song and dance routine when young Aladdin steps inside a cave filled with eye popping gold and treasure.

He rubs the lamp to squeeze out the true star of the musical - the Genie. Mixed in with the trinkets on display, are snippets from a range of musicals including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Musical Theatre aficionados will also recognise some more subtle references to Broadway classics. Magic tricks and frenzied choreography add to the sumptuous kaleidoscope.

It’s the best scene in the musical, or, to be more accurate, the elaborate pantomime, with a dash of vaudeville, which Aladdin is.

Every panto needs a villain to boo and hiss. Adam Murphy filled the bill as the scheming royal Vizier – Jafar, aided by his eccentric offsider Iago.

The pantomime Dame is of course the Genie, played by American actor Michael James Scott. The presence of an imported leading man put some local noses out of joint, but given his charismatic performance and the characterisation as an Afro-American, it was justified. Ironically he got his biggest laughs when Aussie jokes were dropped in – including a reference to a certain salty spread we are fond of.

Less obvious was the necessity to import a leading lady from America. I don’t wish to disparage Arielle Jacobs as Princess Jasmine, who never put a foot out of place, but surely our music theatre schools have truckloads of young actresses who could of equally shone in the two dimensional role of a Disney Princess.

Getting the big break of his career was local lad Ainsley Melham, who looked every bit the part of Aladdin.

When it came to the look of the costumes however, the Disney style didn’t always ring true historically. All the young men had their chests permanently on display. Wouldn’t they get sunburnt in Arabia?

And what Arabian Princess would ever be seen around the Palace with her stomach and shoulders on display?  Yes granted The Tales of the Arabian Night is set in third century AD – 200 years before the establishment of Islam, but even then the culture of the time was more modest.

OK I get it this a Disney vision of the fable, but even so it lacks a few moments of authenticity which, say, The Lion King possesses. The opening number Arabian Nights was the only song which had a hint of middle eastern flavour. The odd joke about middle eastern food didn’t quite fill the void. Elsewhere the songs were pleasing if not memorable apart from A Whole New World, which I still can’t get out of my head.

The special effects though were stunning. There are visual feats aplenty and as hard as I tried I could not see any strings attached to the magic carpet.

Families will love Aladdin – as I officially confirmed with a thumbs up from my 12 year old date.

David Spicer

Images: Aladdin (Ainsley Melham) and the Lamp, Genie (Michael James Scott) and Friend Like Me. Photographer: Deen van Meer

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