Sunday, August 14, 2016
Disney Theatrical Productions, under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents, ALADDIN. Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, Book by Chad Beguelin. Capitol Theatre, Sydney 11 August - 13 November 2016.
The Disney Theatrical Productions arm of the Disney Company have brought to Sydney a spectacle of old fashioned musical theatre in a contemporary (new fashioned) post-modern, popular culture version of a tale of Middle Eastern origin, ALADDIN. Disney had made an animated version of the tale in 1992, and it became a most successful member of the famous Disney Renaissance films which includes BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) and THE LION KING (1994). The theatre show began as a regional theatre production with a book by Chad Beguelin, that grew when the musical maestro Alan Menken became involved and supplied and encouraged the use of material that he and Howard Ashman had created and that had not been used in the animated film.The original concept had been to make a tribute to the old Bob Hope - Bing Crosby 'road pictures' and to celebrate the jazz of the 1930's and '40's (Fats Waller and Cab Calloway). Director and Choreographer, Casey Nicholaw (THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, THE BOOK OF MORMON, SOMETHING ROTTEN) took to the ideas and it grew and grew with a comic nod to both those original impulses to open on Broadway in 2015 in the Amsterdam Theatre.
I grew up with the stories of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and the many adventures of Sinbad, the Sailor, told to me, especially, in film versions. I also remember, vividly, the story of Scheherazade and her adventure in the telling of The Thousand and One Nights to the King, Shahryar, to escape her death. I even have a four volume collection of the stories within stories, translated by Powys Mathers (1964) - too dense and prolific to complete reading - Yet! THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940), the Alexander Korda/Michael Powell film with young Sabu, was one of my primal memorable experiences in the cinema (the Ritz Randwick, I reckon), and, of course, in many repetitions on television - I own a copy, now! I have, shamefully, to confess, never seen the Disney animated film! (Robin Williams probably scared me off - I'm not a fan).
ALADDIN with all of its mythical, primal 'fumes' from one's childhood is bowdlerized and brazenly, hilariously, translated into the modern idiom (contemporary cultural references - Tim Tams and Wagga Wagga!) inviting the use of theatrical traditions covering classic music hall/vaudeville techniques to the 'lame' rom/com ploys, with stock caricatures (cartoon 'goodies' and 'baddies') with simplistic moral lessons on how to live one's life for the good. But add spectacular good-old full-on dance routines, (including, believe it or not, a Tap Dance - it being a "Shameless" ploy, said Mike Nichols to Mr Nicholaw on opening night on Braodway, approvingly!) of bedazzling Costume (Gregg Barnes) and Set Design (Bob Crowley) and you will be bewitched into having a great time. Further, sprinkle some songs (or is it the production/choreographic tricks that make them work? - the music, I suspect, the consistently weakest element of the show that prevents ALADDIN from being great) for your memory box (Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, A Whole New World), and ALADDIN is an escapist entertainment that should bring a smile and a pump of adrenalin to everybody watching it. Let us hope the company can sustain the nervous energy that we saw on opening night in Sydney throughout the up-coming long season - it thrives on it, and without it ALADDIN might be a 'kitschy' tedium (some of my friends saw the show in New York several months after the opening and pooh-poohed it, as just that!)
ALADDIN is a Broadway Musical in Sydney stuffed with the legendary garishness and PIZZAZ that usually are the reasons for making one's theatrical pilgrimage to New York City. But ALADDIN is now just downtown at the Capitol Theatre - and what you save in air fare to the U.S. of A. can buy you many a return visit ticket, down in local Campbell Street. I'd go again for sure. I escaped the anxious travails of modern living in 2016 and had a fun, fun joyful hour or two - a welcome relief. Laughter, wonder, cheers and standing ovations - what more could one ask for?
All the principals, Ainsley Melham (Aladdin), Arielle Jacobs (Jasmine) Adam Murphy (Jafar), Aljin Abella (Iago), George Henare (Sultan), Adam-Jon Fiorentino, (Kassim), Troy Sussman (Babkak), Robert Tripolino (Omar), and especially, Michael James Scott, in the crowd-pleasing rabble-rousing role as Genie, are terrific. The formulaic demands of the material is stylistically, flawlessly delivered alongside the fulsome athleticism of physical skill and expertise that is demanded for the choreography from all. It is, indeed, the discipline and the joy-filled verve of the whole large Ensemble that gives this show a forward momentum of an olympian energy and wonder that is often lacking in many an Australian big-scale musical. It is tremendously satisfying to see and be part of. Congratulations.
The real stars of this show of course are the Designers. Mr Crowley's Cave is simply breathtaking, the Lighting by Natasha Katz full of tricks of gorgeous flexibility, it topped with a truly thrilling magic carpet ride (Illusion Design by Jim Steinmeier. Special Effects by Jeremy Chernick)), jointly collaborated on. Mr Barnes has created over 300 costumes and I reckon every 'sparkle' in Australia has been used on this production to dazzle you. The spectacle is the tireless Choreography and Direction of Casey Nicholaw - I recently saw his production of SOMETHING ROTTEN, on Broadway, and it further demonstrated Mr Nicholaw's way with old fashioned dance routines packed with amazing forward adrenalin motion. Geoffrey Castles and his orchestra are no slouches either in their exhilarating contribution.
I reckon you should go. Take those kids - they'll fall in love with the excitement of the theatre and have the exuberance of ALADDIN as a benchmark for the rest of their lives.