REVIEW: ‘Disney’s Aladdin’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Spring 2024

 

Disney’s Aladdin is theatrical escapism at its shining, shimmering, splendid best.

It’s crystal clear from the moment this engaging musical begins that audience members of all ages will have their eyes opened wide to the magic of theatre. The show fills seasoned theatregoers with nostalgia for the 1992 animated film, warmly welcomes those who are experiencing live theatre for the very first time and leaves everyone on a powerful high.

Slick direction and captivating choreography accompanied by live music. Mesmerising special effects, genie-us tricks, stunning sets, colourful costumes. Bold banter, sharp humour, slapstick silliness. Cross my heart and a pinky swear: this is an enormously energetic, enchanting and entertaining take on a classic Disney offering.

 

Disney's Aladdin. Genie (Yeukayi Ushe) poses centre stage, surrounded by female ensemble dancers wafting colourful scarves.

 

Aladdin’s journey from street rat to prince takes place in the alluring land of Agrabah. You’ve never been? No worries, bombastic narrator/tour guide/stage manager Genie (incredible showman Yeukayi Ushe) appears in a puff of smoke to greet expectant visitors. Before you know it, you’ll be smelling the spices, seeing the villagers dance and wishing penniless Aladdin a happy landing as he hops, skips and jumps through the bustling bazaar.

The story is a straightforward and joyful morality tale about the importance of love, inner strength and using your power to help others. Aladdin (charming Gavin Adams, a recent Royal Academy of Music graduate who moves with exquisite fluidity) must steal and scheme to survive on the streets, yet yearns to make his late parents proud. When he ends up in possession of a magical lamp that houses an all-powerful genie, he becomes master of the lamp. He also discovers a bromance he didn’t know he needed, resolves to win the heart of plucky Princess Jasmine (spirited Desmonda Cathabel, also a Royal Academy of Music graduate, who competed as a contestant on ITV’s Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream in 2023) and makes an enemy of the Sultan’s sinister royal advisor, Jafar.

Aladdin’s partner in crime in the film is a monkey named Abu. In transferring the story from screen to stage, this production replaces the pickpocketing pet with a trio of human friends. These pals pinch market produce and give street performances alongside Al. Whether striking drums, swinging swords or slow-mo sprinting, they add to the adventure by providing a down-to-earth realism that counterbalances the fantastical fabulousness of Genie. Similarly, Jafar’s sidekick in the film is a short-tempered parrot called Iago. Onstage, Iago is reimagined in human form as a goofy goon. Dressed in a flamboyantly full, harem-style jumpsuit costume – accessorised with a headdress that features a touch of plumage and slippers with super curly, almost claw-like, upturned toes – he permanently perches beside Jafar, parroting what he says and ruffling feathers with screechy comments and physical comedy.

The characters – particularly Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie – share a feeling of being trapped. Trapped in poverty, behind palace walls, within the cramped living space of a teeny tiny lamp. Trapped by their social class, gender norms and outdated laws. It all seems like a flight of fancy as wishes are granted, kisses are exchanged and riches are re-evaluated. But the underlying longing for freedom is something everybody can relate to in some way.

 

Disney's Aladdin. Male ensemble dancers wearing colourful Arabian costumes leap through the Agrabah Marketplace.

 

Every twist, turn and kick ball change of this show unfolds in uproarious and uplifting style. Wisecracking Genie informs us early on that everyone in Agrabah has a BTEC in dance and can sing. Later, Aladdin suggests busking as a way to make some money and his friends reply: “People paying to watch other people sing and dance? Who does that?”. Aladdin and co, plenty of people do that (fun fact: over 14 million people worldwide have seen a performance of Disney’s Aladdin) and our world is a better place for it!

The singing and dancing are gold standard throughout. The triple-threat talent of the entire cast is showcased in many songs from the film, as well as in brand new numbers created especially for this production. The vibrant ‘Arabian Nights’ is a scene-setting, scarf-swirling whirlwind of challenging choreography and layered harmonies. The hustle and bustle of the marketplace spills over with verve into ‘One Jump Ahead’, which features performers hitching lifts on market carts, scrambling up ladders and diving into disguises. Undoubtedly, the most kinetic energy is on display in the breathtaking ‘Friend Like Me’. This is staged as an exciting, extended routine in the glittering Cave of Wonders. It’s a marathon mash-up of acrobatics, jazz, tap and ballroom dancing. Dazzling and dynamic, it scores a 10 from me!

‘Proud Of Your Boy’ is an introspective solo for Aladdin that helps us connect to him beyond his mischief-making. ‘A Million Miles Away’ is a sweet duet for Aladdin and Jasmine, all about self-discovery. Of course, the duet we all know and love from the film is wistful ballad ‘A Whole New World’. And yes, this is sung onstage as pauper-turned-prince Aladdin and independent-yet-impressed Jasmine soar through an endless diamond sky on a truly magical carpet ride. I have no idea how the creative team made it happen so effectively and beautifully, but they did.

Only a few tickets remain, towards the end of the run. Press night demonstrated that Disney’s Aladdin whisks theatregoers off to a wondrous place, so anyone without tickets to the magic will need to embark on a thrilling chase to secure one of those final spots aboard Genie Airways. Be one jump ahead and get booking now!

 

Running time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including an interval.

This production contains theatrical smoke and fog effects as well as strobe lighting and loud sound during part of the show.

 

*Production photography by Deen van Meer.

 

Disney’s Aladdin continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until Sunday 19 May. The UK tour continues until 5 January 2025.

 

This review is also featured on Total MK.

 

 

Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.

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