Even the man behind The Book of Mormon must have quailed a little at the prospect of turning the 1992 animation into a musical. There are the logistical challenges: the magic carpet, the secret cave stuffed with gems and gold, the materialising and dematerialising genie. But the real head-scratcher must have been casting the Genie: How could anyone step into the shoes of the late, great Robin Williams?
Wisely, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw hasn’t attempted to imitate Williams. His genie also steals the show but he’s a different beast in the hands of US actor Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was the Genie standby on Broadway for a year. Nicholas’s head twinkles like a disco ball and he lights up the stage with his jolly flamboyance. His song Friend Like Me pulls almost every trick in the theatrical book and won him a standing ovation on Monday night.
Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie
Bar the odd Bruce Forsyth and Tommy Cooper gag, the West End version is the same as the Broadway hit, even down to the American accents. Yet the first half in particular plays out like an awfully British pantomime, although the actors stop short of chucking sweets into the audience and inviting us to boo the baddie.
The leads are both Brits: Dean John-Wilson plays a wholesome Aladdin, while Jade Ewen is a feisty Jasmine with a silken voice. As the Genie notes in a new prologue, they’re supported by a very good-looking ensemble who sing and dance their hearts out in teeny but dazzling costumes. The secret cave is indeed awash with gold and also got a round of applause.
New songs pad out the original score. The best of these is High Adventure, thanks to the physical tomfoolery of Aladdin’s trio of pals who have replaced his pet monkey Abu. Happily, barely a word of Jafar and Iago’s deliciously evil double-act has been changed (Iago is a human, not a wisecracking parrot, but otherwise is every inch Gilbert Gottfried who voiced him in the movie).
As for the magic carpet, it lives up to its name. In fact, it doesn’t just circumnavigate the globe this time; it flies into space and there’s not a string or a pulley to be spied.
Aladdin is at Prince Edward Theatre until October