Here's a show which gives a lot of bang for your bucks, in every way.
Disney have set themselves an extremely high bar: their stage version of The Lion King -- which next year marks its 20th birthday on Broadway -- is still consistently the highest grossing of any show in New York, and in 2014 set the record for the top-grossing entertainment in any genre or medium of all time, having earned $6.2 billion worldwide. Their animated musical film version of Aladdin, premiered in 1992, was the most successful film release of that year, earning over $504m in worldwide revenues.
Forgive me for lingering on those cash flow charts, but you can't help thinking that they're on the money, in every sense, in terms of hitting the jukebox jackpot. And they've brought that winning formula back to the theatre, where deep familiarity clearly breeds audience content. Next year, they're adding a Broadway stage version of their 2013 film Frozen to the catalogue of what is sure to be another theatrical phenomenon.
Aladdin, of course, feels doubly familiar; not just for its place in the Disney pantheon, but for British audiences, thanks to the story's regular appearances on the Christmas panto schedules. And watching Casey Nicholaw's spectacular production, ravishingly designed by Bob Crowley and costumed by Gregg Barnes, I thought it wouldn't look out of place at Birmingham Hippodrome, the theatre that sets the bar in terms of panto presentation every year. And I mean that both as a compliment but also a small warning: it doesn't entirely shake off the panto associations we inevitably bring to it.
Yet this is also a gorgeous production, wrapped in glitter, sequins and streamers that are fired over our heads in the first act. Welcome, as the show tells us, to Agrabah, which has "more glitz and glamour than any other fictional city in the world", where "even our poor people look fabulous" and "by the way, everybody sings."
That's certainly true of our titular character, the homeless street urchin Aladdin who, as played by Dean John-Wilson, thrusts forward a gleaming bare chest and tons of impish charm, as his path crosses with royalty and he finds himself falling for Princess Jasmine (the altogether lovely Jade Ewen, formerly of the pop group Sugababes and most recently seen onstage in In the Heights).
And just as another former Disney heroine Mary Poppins herself took an extravagant flight over the stalls holding her trademark umbrella aloft, so Aladdin and Princess Jasmine here take a magic carpet ride over the stage that is indeed magical, as designed by illusionist Jim Steinmeyer.
Here's a show which gives a lot of bang for your bucks, in every way; prolific Broadway director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, also currently represented in London and on Broadway by The Book of Mormon, on Broadway only by Something Rotten and soon to direct Dreamgirls in London, brings a knowing irreverence to it, too, and delivers some knockout production numbers, not least when Trevor Dion Nicholas's Genie leads the riotous Friend Like Me that virtually stops the show.
Nicholas, who was the Broadway standby to the Tony winning James Monroe Iglehart as Genie, is the comic heart of the show, but he's also joined by Nathan Amzi, Stephen-Rahman Hughes and Richard Sabitri as Aladdin's friends and sidekicks, and some stock panto baddies from Don Gallagher and Peter Howe.
Alan Menken's Oscar winning score -- with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin (the latter of whom also wrote the show's book) -- is a tuneful delight, and is given full value under the musical direction of Alan Williams.
You may want to rub a magical lamp to get tickets for it so you, too, can hop aboard that magical carpet ride.
What the Press Said...
"The Genie’s big show-stopper Friend Like Me – a jazzy riot of infectious brio and trick-mustering showmanship that conjures the spirit of Las Vegas and hits the jack-pot in terms of hummability – will leave you heading for the interval ice-creams with a smile on your face."
Dominic Maxwell for The Telegraph
"Amidst the orgy of bling-flashing and scimitar-waving, it's the moments of mischief that charm rather than the attempts at the heartfelt."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Impressive stage magic, a gold-dripping design and a party-loving genie make this energetic adaptation of the animated movie a wicked treat."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Casey Nicholaw’s big-budget production is packed with busy numbers, but Trevor Dion Nicholas is the reason to come and see this glitzy show."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard