Very rarely does an adaptation replace the original as being the definitive take on a story. That is not the case for the Aladdin musical.
While it would be unfair to compare the technological and budgetary advantages of the recent film adaptation to a stage play… ah, who am I kidding, the play kicked ass all the way from Philadelphia to Bel-Air.
Stage machinations and sets being obvious strengths for anything coming our of the Disney production machine, casting is the one art that can’t yet be pegged to a budget. Something that the movie proved despite the triple A-starred power of Will Smith himself.
So, instead of speaking of my amazement of the stunning sets, the meticulous props, the ingenious direction, I’m gonna direct all my love to the cast.
To get the obvious out of the way: no, there are no monkeys that turn into elephants in this version. Instead, Aladdin is accompanied by three loyal compatriots who not only function just as well but add a new dimension to the character. With actual humans to chat and plan heists with, the story is allowed to feel a tad fresher with more breathing room. And for characters who are new to the tale, they’re played with such enthusiasm and gusto that you’d be heard pressed to imagine a version without them.
And as for Aladdin himself, Graeme Isaako steps up with what can only be described as a far more cheeky take than we’d usually be used to. Every bit as physical as the animated film, he reinforces his scoundrel ways with a genuine sense of hope. Aladdin has always attracted me due to it essentially being a superhero origin story, and Graeme Isaako’s take has you feeling like you’re watching an Arabian Spider-Man.
Amplifying Isaako’s Disney-ness is Shubshri Kandiah’s Jasmine. If I had no sense of reality, I’d have sworn the animation had come to life. Seriously, this actress could have played Bambi in a live action adaptation, and I’d have found it more realistic than the “live action” The Lion King movie.
While she does not have as much opportunity to display the fierce conviction of the Jasmine from the original, Shubshri’s take on the character is still boosted with a strong sense of belief and confidence. Even though the character, as with many female protagonists, lacks the opportunity to be humorous, Shubshri’s delivery and, at times, biting sarcasm more than makes up for it.
Their chemistry is magical and it almost makes you forget to be totally in shock when the magic carpet pretty much literally flies around the stage. And while it’s a trick that is used sparingly, their take on A Whole New World is almost cathartic, making up for certain recent transgressions that shall not be mentioned.
If Shubshri and Graeme embody everything that is shiny and awe-inspiring about Disney tales, Patrick R. Brown brings to life the very much larger-than-life Jafar in all of his scheming glory! And while some may be a tad disappointed that Iago is no longer a parrot, Doron Chester’s take more than makes up for it with his delightful, over-the-top cartoonish depiction of the character. It’s almost unbelievable that a person has that much energy to do this every night.
But, hey, if we’re talking energy, let’s talk Genie! It’s difficult to say that the character was portrayed by Gareth Jacobs, not when I’m positive that both actor and role are one and the same. Stealing the limelight in every scene he’s in, Jacobs resonates as a Genie 2.0 done right. Capturing every bit of what made Robin Williams’ iconic portrayal so, well, iconic, Jacobs’ take somehow further humanises the character, reminding us of just how much this all-powerful being has really suffered despite his cheery disposition.
From his 8-minute long rendition of Friend Like Me, to right to his words of farewell, Jacobs’ performance is a tour de force that leaves the audience wishing for more.
Thankfully, more is possible without wishes, you’d just need to head to Sistic to grab them tickets. Aladdin’s running till the first of September and is honestly the best damn thing I’ve seen on stage.