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Theatre Review: Disney's Aladdin ****

Michael Cox reviews 'a terrific thrill ride' of a production.

If there were a production that was critic-proof in Scotland this year, surely it is Disney’s Aladdin. A Broadway and West End behemoth, the production has a build-in audience and a very familiar name.

What’s great to report is that what could have been a cynical cash-grab has proven to be a very effective night out: frequently thrilling with laughs and dramatic wonder, the production easily raises a smile that never fades. Even more impressive is the fact it works on its own without being haunted by the classic film.

The story basics are the same: streetwise Aladdin finds himself on a lifechanging adventure that takes him on a magical journey, from the crowded streets of Agrabah to the Cave of Wonders and the royal palace. He encounters a resourceful princess, an evil sorcerer and a wisecracking genie, all while finding self-worth and confidence to be himself.

Rather than giving a beat-for-beat rehash, Chad Beguelin’s script fully embraces the new and the strengths of live theatricality. Characters are fleshed out and extra scenes are added; gone are the animal sidekicks and in are cheeky human pals who have our hero’s back. The production has also added new songs which sit comfortably with the much-loved tunes, some matching in lyrical wit and catchiness.

If there were any hesitation in doing a new version of Aladdin, surely it’s in finding an actor to take on the pivotal role of the Genie. Rather than attempting to match or copy Robin Williams’ seminal performance, Yeukayi Ushe relishes in making the role his own: bursting with energy and charisma, he looks like he’s having the time of his life.

The remainder of the cast are equally impressive. Adam Strong is brilliantly conniving as Jafar and relishes in his villainy, and Desmonda Cathabel’s plucky Jasmine is easy to be charmed by. Angelo Paragoso is an absolute hoot as Jafar’s henchman Iago, and Nelson Bettencourt, Adam Taylor and Nay-Nay are a pure delight as Aladdin’s pals Babkak, Omar and Kassim.

Yet, with all of the spectacle and comedic shenanigans, the heart of the production hinges on the titular hero, and Gavin Adams is very much up to the mammoth task. Perhaps not the ensemble’s best singer or dancer, Adams is still a joy to watch whenever he’s onstage: vulnerable yet earnest with just enough cheek to not take him too seriously.

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw has indeed staged an impressive magic trick: creating an original production that’s bursting with energy and flourish yet is familiar enough to appease those looking for something familiar. Disney’s Aladdin really is a terrific thrill ride that pushes all the right buttons.

Disney’s Aladdin performs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until November 18, 2023.

Tags: theatre

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