[Putting Agrabah on the Map]
Whether recognised from its Chinese origin or by Robin Williams’ signature improvisational skills, the story of Aladdin is by no means new to the international literary or dramatic canon. The pauper-to-prince protagonist plot, antagonised by an evil sorcerer, is a staple narrative in not only its multiple adaptations, but also the varying interpretations of the source material. What makes the Disney version stand out and resonate beyond its comparatives, however, is, as with most Disney renditions, the music, and the message of honesty, accountability, and true love.
The transition to stage from the 1992 animated film is no mean feat, and the creative team behind the stage-musical have made the fictional city of Agrabah as gaudy and glamorous as possible with a visual design that defines the word spectacle. However, it is the big band bursting with brass and belting Alan Menken’s score, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (as well as arrangements and orchestrations by Michael Kosarin and Danny Troob respectively), on which the heart of the show relies.
This heart, however, does not necessarily come from Graeme Issako’s vocally strong performance and technically proficient stage-craft as Aladdin, which restricts his emotional truth and connection with Jasmine, played with capricious abandon and Disney-appropriate vocal work by Shubshri Kandiah. Fortunately, theatrical adaptations usually require story additional to animated running time, and the addition of Babkak, Omar, and Kassim, (Troy Sussman, Adam Di Martino, and Rob Mallett) provides a platonic plot that sustains the show’s needs, although Sussman has given up on delivering the food puns with any sincerity by act two.
The inexplicable specificity of the diamond-in-the-rough/chosen-
The main attraction to the show, however, is of course the Genie, performed with laudable dexterity and endurance by Gareth Jacobs. It is not only the vocal comparison to Williams’, which is aptly subverted, but also the anthropomorphic limitations, which any performer who plays the role must both accept and rise above. Jacobs not only succeeds in doing so, but does so with a genuine showmanship that fills The Civic Theatre.
But a show of such grandeur is reliant on not only its principle cast, but also its ensemble. While the choreography is occasionally let down due to a lack of precision on certain gestures (bar the flawless Priscilla Stavrou and Ryan Ophel), the vocal support, especially from Mallett and Sasha-Lee Saunders, is harmoniously resonant. Add to this the unseen execution of their roles by the various backstage crew members, from mechs and flys to dressers, and the result is, quite simply, extraordinary; a combination of on-stage talent and off-stage skill best demonstrated in the literally show-stopping Friend Like Me and again in Prince Ali.
Disney have made literally billions on selling the story of true love to children for generations. And while that story is evident if somewhat lacking in places on opening night, fortunately, the aforementioned fortune has been redistributed to Disney Theatrical Group to provide Australasia with a show of unparalleled spectacle and theatrical entertainment.
Aladdin plays at The Civic Theatre until 2 March.