I had the immense privilege of seeing the new Disney Aladdin musical comedy this week. While the show holds its own as a brilliant stand alone show, it is a reworking of the famous animated movie of the same name that the majority of the audience had seen, many times over, judging from the singing breaking out around the theatre.
With such a cultural icon as the basis for the show, it’s inevitable that audience will walk in with expectations that it will be identical to the movie – which it isn’t. Many things that worked in a cartoon just don’t work on stage, and there were a lot of holes in the movie that have now been filled with additional songs and dialogue. I found the show to be full of unexpected surprises that added up to a spectacularly enjoyable experience for both fans of the movie, as well as newcomers to the story.
Thinking of going? Here are a few things you won’t expect:
Aladdin isn’t the star of the show
The name of the show is Aladdin, so you expect the star to be … Aladdin, right? This was the number one surprise of the show. Genie, the role which Robin Williams famously stole the show with in the 1992 animated movie, is again the attention grabbing character who has the funniest lines, the most dramatic exits and some very impressive vocal pipes. We were incredibly lucky to see the role of Genie being played by Michael James Scott, who starred in the original cast of Aladdin when it opened on Broadway in New York in 2014. His immense presence and incredible talent steal every scene he features in.
The genie isn’t blue
Expecting a painted blue man to play the genie? Guess again. The genie looks like a pretty regular fellow in the show, dressed in royal blue as a nod to the all-blue genie we are used to from the animated classic.
You won’t know all the songs
You might remember the animated Aladdin as being full of songs, but more were clearly needed to turn a 90-minute movie into a 2-and-a-bit-hour stage show. You will hear all of your faves (and have to fight the urge to sing along), plus seven brand new songs written just for the show. The added songs give an extra depth to the show, letting us learn more about the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine in particular.
There are no talking animals
When translating the movie to the stage, a few tricky characters, namely Iago the parrot, Abu the monkey and the magic carpet all either underwent transformations or were axed completely. Iago came out of it the best off, with a larger role now as a human sidekick with a few witty parrot references to give a nod to his roots. Abu is gone, and carpet only features twice as an actual carpet rather than a character.
Australia gets a few mentions
The audience laughed with appreciation to hear local references like Vegemite, Tim Tams and Wagga Wagga peppering the dialogue. I always think it’s a smart move to adapt shows to their destination, and it certainly warmed the audience in this case even more so towards the Genie, who was the Tim Tam addict among the cast.
There’s tap dancing
I bet you didn’t expect that! The show is full of spectacle – shooting lights, shiny materials and sparkles galore, bright props and dazzling costumes. Of course there is a tap dancing number to add to the show’s show-stopping scene in the Cave of Wonders, which also features a take on Dancing with the Stars – but now Scimitars (get it?).
There’s a new scene
The original movie has a tricky scene where Aladdin is briefly banished by Jafar to a desert, where he summons the genie and is quickly returned to Agrabah again. This scene was integral for Aladdin to use his second wish, but obviously a tricky one to bring to the stage. The producers have done an excellent job of getting the same result (the second wish being spent) but with a completely new scene that is far more entertaining than the one it replaces.
It’s less scary than the movie
I remember the movie being pretty scary when I was a kid, and my four-year-old finds parts of it terrifying. For some reason, when translated on stage, the scary bits don’t seem scary any more. The cave has a sense of humour this time around, and the scary snake scene at the end is now completely gone.
It’s funnier than the movie
There are so many hilarious one-liners (“Welcome to Agrabah – land of one percent body fat!”) and cultural references peppering the dialogue that you need to focus hard to stop your head from spinning.
They’ve bought out every sequin store in Sydney
I mean really, where did all those sequins come from? The cast were glittering so much that it looked like they’d raided the Tower of London for their jewels, and then every Spotlight and Lincraft to dazzle the audience’s eyes with so much glitz it was almost blinding at times.
The flying carpet will make you cry
The flying carpet scene is a highlight in the movie and again in the show. Thanks to brilliant staging and props, the scene with the carpet is breathtakingly beautiful, in an understated way that makes the emotion forefront and evokes the magic of the original movie. I wasn’t the only one with a tear in my eye during this song that sent the audience into a hushed state for the first time since the curtain rose.
Aladdin has mates
He actually has a trio of mates that form his entourage in the show; one of them deliciously camp, one obsessed with hummus, and the last your average Joe. The three get some excellent stage time with comedic song and dance routines. Having friends makes Aladdin seem more of a real-life character – how had I never wondered who he hung out with all day when I used to watch the original movie?
The Cave of Wonders scene is a show stopper
The cast also seemed shocked when the applause and cheering at the end of the “Friend Like Me” number went on for so long that the next scene was delayed in starting by a good minute or so. The cheering would likely have keep going, had it not been for the orchestra kicking off the next number and forcing the show to resume. The faces of the cast when the shouting and clapping just kept going and going was absolutely priceless.
Should I take my child to see Aladdin?
Disney recommends the show for kids aged six and up. With the long running time and also new songs that are a bit more “adult”, I would agree with this recommendation. I am, however, taking my just-turned-five-year-old to see the show because she’s been begging to see it. If you’re taking your little one to see it too, here are my tips for making the outing a success:
- Book a matinee. Kids are always better rested and behaved for matinees and less likely to irritate adults who want a kid-free evening out. No one likes to have a child kicking their seat for the entire show.
- Buy the Broadway cast album and play it repeatedly in the car for the weeks leading up to the show to prepare them for the new songs.
- Pick up a booster seat from the cloak room.
- Pack plenty of snacks like popcorn or whatever special treats they’re allowed.
- Take them to the bathroom both before the show starts, and straight away at interval.
Aladdin is playing at the Capitol Theatre until October 23, 2016
Tickets are on sale now.
Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Aladdin, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin at Capitol Theatre Sydney, starring: Ainsley Melham (Aladdin), Michael James Scott (Genie), Arielle Jacobs (Jasmine), Troy Sussman (Babkak), Adam Jon Fiorentino (Kassim), Robert Tripolino (Omar), Adam Murphy (Jafar), Aljin Abella (Iago) and George Henare (Sultan) directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Thank you to Bridges PR for the tickets to see Aladdin. All opinions are my own. Show images by Deen van Meer.