Melbourne: your wish has been granted – Aladdin

Ainsley Melham as Aladdin with the Lamp - photo By Deen van MeerDisney’s hit musical Aladdin has opened in Melbourne at Her Majesty’s Theatre after a successful season in Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

Aladdin is Disney’s most successful musical after The Lion King, and has thrilled audiences around the world. To be fair, those not a Disney fan may struggle to be swept away on this musical carpet ride, but Melbourne audiences can be assured that the citizens of Agrabah are out in full flamboyant force, perhaps even exceeding the standard set in Sydney.

The musical is most closely based on the 1992 animated feature that in turn is based on a classic tale from One Thousand and One NightsThere are a few distinct differences, such as a few additional songs and the lack of animal mascots. Abu is sadly missing; however, Iago is still hilariously present in human form. Interestingly, there are no animals whatsoever in this musical production, and it is not clear whether this was a deliberate omission (“let’s make this the complete opposite of The Lion King”) or whether they were just not considered. A few elephants would have made Prince Ali’s entrance even more fantastic.

As with Sydney there are three main reasons to see Aladdin: to bear witness to the magical look of the production, to hear the exceptional musical score, and to experience the masterful portrayal of the Genie by Michael James Scott.

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw successfully married together the movement of the set and performers in a never-ending visual feast. This was only possible through the set design by Bob Crowley that simply needs to be seen. All moveable elements are utilised as functional components that transform seamlessly into the next scene.

The flying carpet is a marvellous theatrical engineering feat and is convincingly magical thanks for the expert lighting design by Natasha Katz. Her Majesty’s Theatre’s more intimate setting works well for the Aladdin set, perhaps more so than the Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

The magical props used throughout the performance were exceedingly clever (Jim Steinmeyer, Illusion Design), and at times even becoming one with the costuming that remained true to cartoon movie classic (Gregg Barnes, Costume Design). Of all the scenes, the Cave of Wonders was clearly the crowd favourite, and prepared the audience for the most popular musical number, and the key performance by the biggest star of the show.

Fans of the movie will be happy to see their favourite songs faithfully translated to the stage. Alan Menken (composer) added in elements of musical comedy with additional songs such as High Adventure (lyrics by the late great Howard Ashman) that was hilariously performed by Aladdin’s ‘partners in crime’ Babkak (Troy Sussman), Omar (Robert Tripolino), and Kassim (Adam-Jon Fiorentino).

Unlike the movie though, the most popular stage song (judging by the audience reaction) was not A Whole New World (even with the magic carpet ride) or even my favourite song of the movie, Prince Ali, that could have been a bit more “over the top” on stage. The song that inspired audience members to rise from their seats in both Sydney and again in Melbourne was Friend Like Me sung by the Genie himself, Michael James Scott.

Simply put, Scott is about the best thing that could have happened to Aladdin. While clearly inspired by legend Robin Williams who changed forever our perception of the mythical genie of the lamp, Scott made the role his own with superhuman energy, wit and humour.

This character is so fundamental to what many people, including myself, treasure about Disney’s Aladdin, and a failure in this role would destroy this production. This is not to say that Scott carried the performance, with Ainsley Melham very much a diamond no longer in the rough as Aladdin, successfully gaving the role its needed adorable and loving yet awkward and somewhat naïve charm.

Perhaps it is more a fault of the narrative rather than direction or ability that the portrayal of Jasmine (Hiba Elchikhe) was not as prominent or important as it was in the movie version. Although head-strong and stubborn (and like Aladdin quite naïve), she was a ‘disney princess’ who not only put a spotlight on our misogynistic society, but truly cared for her people and was the clear choice to be the benevolent ruler of Agrabah.  There was a missed opportunity to give Jasmine a greater stage presence, but not to Elchikhe’s discredit as her performance, like all, was strong.

Disney stories would be nothing without their villains, who often possess more charisma and personality than the heroes they wish to thwart. Jafar has always been a favourite of mine, and Adam Murphy continues to serve the role with dedication in Melbourne as he did in Sydney. While not a parrot, Aljin Abella’s portrayal of Iago is simply brilliant, and much like Scott’s portrayal of the Genie, Abella made Iago his own.

It very much seems that Melbourne found its genie lamp in the theatre world this year, and has set the magic free. With two musical titans (the other being The Book of Mormon, also directed by Nicholaw) playing together, this is a certainly a promising time for the Melbourne musical theatre scene. Aladdin is a musical theatre classic in the making and very much a fun and enjoyable experience for all ages.

Aladdin
Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 20 April 2017 – 7.00pm
Season: 20 April – 22 October 2017
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au

For more information, visit: www.aladdinthemusical.com.au for details.

Image: Ainsley Melham as Aladdin with the Lamp – photo By Deen van Meer

Review: Jimmy Twin

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