By Liam McLoughlin 15/08/2016
If Edward W. Said, author of the seminal book about patronising Western representations of Eastern culture called Orientalism, rose from the dead and scored an invite to opening night of Aladdin at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, I’d be pretty surprised. I'd also hate to sit next to him; he’d probably get real grumpy. Thankfully he couldn’t make it, so I could sit back and enjoy the heck out of surely one of the most extraordinary spectacles in musical theatre history.
Most of us know the rough story of ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’, added to a book of Middle-Eastern folk tales by French translator Antoine Galland in 1710. Though the smug amongst us might boast “I read it in the original French before it was popular”, most inhaled Aladdin’s magic through the Disney classic of the early 90s. Love, fraud, Robin Williams, magical carpets, Arabic stereotypes, happy endings (not that kind, although I guess Aladdin probably got both); you know the deal. The musical version is based pretty closely on the film, albeit with a few additions to turn the 90 minute animation into a live show which runs for well over two hours.
If jaw dropping sets, stunning lighting, tight choreography, and eye popping showstoppers float your boat, then grab your oars, flares, whistle and life jackets (safety first) and get ready for the high seas. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a mid-show standing ovation and the one following ‘Friend Like Me’ was richly deserved. Oh and if you love bad puns, especially ones about Middle-Eastern food, you’re in for a baklava time (baklava time/helluva time - no? ...ahhh, forget it).
Though Williams’ genie is an impossible act to follow, Michael James Scott somehow managed it, and had the audience eating out of his hand. Arielle Jacobs’ Princess Jasmine and Ainsley Melham’s Aladdin are everything Disney protagonists are designed to be, and on the whole, the cast thrive in multi-tasking impressive athleticism, effervescent energy, and peerless hotness.
As a sucker for sentimentality, illusions and sparkly things, ‘A Whole New World’ was something to behold, and songs like ‘High Adventure’ and ‘Somebody’s Got Your Back’ were rollicking good fun.
Let’s be honest, no one’s seeing Aladdin for its nuanced portrait of Arabic culture or its multi-layered and realistic perception of love. You see it because it’s bloody good fun and brings back great memories of your childhood or the kids in your lives.
To that end, the musical version of Aladdin is a great success. Just maybe save reading Orientalism for afterwards.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin
Book: Chad Beguelin
Director and Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Music Director: Geoffrey Castles
Cast: Aljin Abella, Adam-Jon Fiorentino, George Henare, Arielle Jacobs, Ainsley Melham, Adam Murphy, Michael James Scott, Troy Sussman, Robert Tripolino
11 August - 13 November 2016