From the start, where a live orchestra beckons us in with a rendition of Arabian Nights, the new UK tour production of Disney’s Aladdin captivates from start to finish: opulent costumes, energetic dance routines, breathtaking sets and a riot of colour and movement.
Based on the 1992 animated movie, the plot stays more or less faithful to it, in doing so incorporating elements of the One Thousand And One Nights. We first meet Aladdin, a poor yet streetwise urchin, hustling in the markets of Agrabah with his hapless sidekicks Babkak, Omar and Kassim. After Aladdin meets and falls in love with an incognito Princess Jasmine, he crosses paths with the dastardly Jafar and is unwittingly pulled into a magical adventure in which he finds an enchanted lamp, befriends a larger-than-life genie, rides a magical carpet with a beautiful princess – and ultimately proves, in true Disney style, that the good guy gets the girl.
Excepting animal characters Abu and Rajah, most of the movie’s major figures feature in this adaption. Indeed, Babkak, Omar and Kassim were deleted from the final cut of the film: restored for the stage, and played here by Nelson Bettencourt, Adam Taylor (a Penarth local) and Nay-Nay, they make up for lost time with wonderful dance routines, vocal performances and slapstick banter. Gavin Adams delights in his professional debut as Aladdin – his vocal performances are faultless and confident, especially on Proud Of Your Boy – and Demonda Cathabel is a perfect Jasmine, sweet yet feisty, showcasing her vocal talent on A Whole New World. Together the pair have an easy chemistry that allows both of them to shine.
Adam Strong is superb as the villainous sorcerer Jafar, and both he and Angelo Paragoso as the hilarious Iago inject humour into their dastardly dealings. However, it’s Yeukayi Ushe who steals the show as the endlessly energetic, sensationally sassy Genie, thanks in no small part to his delivery of the riotous Friend Like Me at the end of the first act.
Add in Bob Crowley’s set design, Jim Steinmeyer’s illusions and Natasha Katz’s lighting – scenes set in the cave and on the magic carpet are particular successes – and you’re left with a laugh-out-loud, all-singing-and-dancing, pantomime-esque musical with big, brash ensemble pieces which will ring in your ears long after you leave the theatre.
Disney’s Aladdin, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Thurs 14 Dec
On until Sun 14 Jan. Tickets: £20-£95. Info: here
words SARAH EDWARDS photos DEAN VAN MEER