As children, it was one of our absolute favourite Disney films. We loved the colour and the culture, the magic and the romance. But what happens when you take all of that wonder and transform it onto a West End stage in musical form? Will it truly be A Whole New World?
Date: July 14, 2016
Place: Prince Edward Theatre, London
It was a warm and sunny day outside, but the energy and enthusiasm did not drop as we approached the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street in London’s West End. Fans of all ages lurked outside, each queueing to have their picture taken with the Genie’s magic lamp which stood proudly outside by the street. I had to get my photograph taken, because I knew from then on that I was in for a huge treat.
The theatre’s interior is like something straight out of a Fitzgerald novel. Designed in 1930 – if you couldn’t already tell – it instantly takes you back to the times with the art deco patterns and royal colour palette. It looked simply beautiful.
As we took our seats on the front row of the Grand Circle, I couldn’t help but feel we had the very best seats in the house; we could see the whole stage, and the importance of that cannot be understated in a performance such as this.
The story follows the life and adventures of title character Aladdin; a poor but kind-hearted thief who dreams of making more of himself and, more importantly, making his mother proud. Dean John-Wilson took on the role, and his performance cannot be faulted. He cleverly maneuvered his way around the set while delivering his songs – I don’t know how he didn’t get out of breath! His voice was smooth and delicate, and his tone could be reasonably compared to fellow performer Ramin Karimloo, which made every wannabe princess in the audience swoon.
Alongside him taking centre stage was love interest Princess Jasmine. In the movie, she’s elegant, beautiful and sings like an angel, and all of those things were still true in this version, as Jade Ewan played her suitably and sassily. I enjoyed how the musical version seems to exaggerate the character’s strong-willed side; this Princess Jasmine was a truly independent woman, and that’s always refreshing in a theatrical world full of damsels in distress.
And, of course, we cannot forget one very special character – the genie. Energy, comedy, talent, passion and a great big smile; Trevor Dion Nicholas brought all of this and more, and we couldn’t have asked for anything else. The actor, who was born in Morgantown, West Virgina, has played this role before on Broadway, and it really did show. He didn’t just bring the magic to the stage, he filled the whole room – I have no doubt that Robin Williams would have wanted to shake his hand after that performance.
I always think it must be a challenge to play the villain, with the sharp flashing lights and echo of ‘boos’ from the crowd each time you enter the stage, but none of this fazed bad guy Jafar, played by Don Gallagher, who was authoritative (and actually quite scary) from start to finish.
But it wasn’t just the lead characters that blew us all away. Supporting roles Babkak (Nathan Amzi), Omar (Rachid Sabitri) and Kassim (Stephen Rahman-Hughes) are new for the musical, and seem to fill the gap left by the absence of Abu the monkey. The three men worked perfectly together; you could have genuinely believed these guys loved each other like brothers. The harmonies between the three of them during the song High Adventure were particularly impressive, and they moved expertly in sync too.
A special mention must go out to the ensemble who continued to fill the fictional city of Agrabah with energy, colour and their expert dance moves. The choreography by Casey Nicholaw was consistently appropriate and effective throughout. It made the show for me, particularly during famous dance number Friend Like Me, which received a round of applause that continued for a long time in appreciation of the pure talent we had just witnessed.
But something else that contributed to such an amazing production was the set; always bigger, and always better each time it was changed. The most incredible piece of set for me was the Cave of Wonders; the exterior was a grand lions head with huge glaring eyes, whereas the interior was completely filled with gold – and I mean filled. Scenic Designer Bob Crowley really nailed the wealth and splendour that we see in the movie, even though I imagined this would be difficult to mimic with the limitations of a stage.
Additionally, there was something that managed to take my breath away time and time again – the costumes (Gregg Barnes). There was so much glitter to every gown and height to every hat, we couldn’t help but feel as though we too were at the royal celebrations.
Musically, we saw a great mixture of songs we were familiar with – and could sing along too – and ones we had never heard before. This ensured that the production stayed true to its roots, but added an up-to-date twist on the original storyline which was truly genius.
And, of course, we have to address the question that I feel many will be asking: did the magic carpet really fly? Well, I can safely report that it wasn’t just the under eights in the room that were on the edge of their seats – we all were! The magic carpet took off smoothly and rose higher with each verse of the classic A Whole New World, surrounded by millions of stars in the dark night sky. Impressively, we couldn’t see any attachments or wires that gave away how exactly it was elevating; maybe magic carpets do exist after all?
Since the movie’s release in 1992 (24 years ago? Now we’re all feeling old!), this story has made us laugh, fall in love, and has caused us to play it over and over again. After watching the musical version, I don’t think any of that will be changing anytime soon. Instead, I think this production will impact a whole new generation of Aladdin fans, and will surely keep that all important magic alive.