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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Aladdin Sane

Your theatre critic here! Thought you'd all like to read my critique of the most recent show I've seen.

It was a musical. Went with the missus - neither of us is that keen on this theatrical genre but when you're offered free tickets....So yesterday afternoon we trotted off to the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street to see "Aladdin".

I remember going to that theatre when it was a cinema where I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey"in the summer of 1968! I saw "Evita" when it was converted back into a theatre in 1978 and later on in 1986 "Chess". Which is a bit of a coincidence because Tim Rice has had a hand in all three musicals.

The missus had done some beading work on the Sultan's costume and as a present - she hasn't yet been paid - she was offered tickets to the Monday matinee. Except it wasn't exactly that - rather a dress rehearsal for the new cast. The circle and upper circle was full of screaming school kids and only half the stall were occupied, with friends and family of the cast, performers from the other Disney show in town "The Lion King". Positioned in the middle of the stalls was the director and his minions all of whom were involved in making sure if anything went wrong they'd note it.

Before we settled down the director, who was one of those gushing Americans, welcomed us all on behalf of the Disney Worldwide Syndicated Entertainment Empire or something similar. He was really excited with the new show with its brand spanking new cast ( I did wonder what happened to the old one; were they put out to pasture being knackered by the relentless enthusiasm of Disney Inc.)

And the show started. I now know why I haven't seen a musical in over 30 years. Don't get me wrong I loved the early 1990's cartoon with Robin Williams as the Genie but this was a bit like "Sunday Night at the London Palladium" set somewhere out East. For a show supposedly representing the Middle East it had very few, if any, Arab looking cast members.And did my ears deceive me but did everyone speak and sing in an American accent? That really annoyed.

Frankly, not one of the main characters interested me. The Princess and Aladdin were like wet rags, limp and quite useless. The songs were cheesy and totally predictable. The sets were good, clever but nothing out of the ordinary.

Except for one character - the Genie and one set - Aladdin's cave. We waited a life time for the big number that closed the first act and it was worth the admission price, although we got in free, but you know what I mean. The dance, the music, the song and the set ( what a set!) were fabulous, brilliant I couldn't stop tapping my feet and smiling. That was real show business.

And onto the second Act and it started at a low level and never recovered. At the end of the First Act I wondered how they could they top that. Well they didn't bother trying. Lots of plotting and scheming, more pretty girls wiggling their hips in a supposedly exotic Arabic manner, preposterous sword fights, -  tricking the evil Grand Vizier and his demise was the one highlight in an otherwise dull second act. Even the magic carpet ride was ruined by some silly love song.

But the kids loved it: which is the audience Disney's after. Disney Inc is a bit like the Jesuits: catch 'em young and they're yours forever.

I learn something about the production values from my wife. No variation in the design is allowed: it's all controlled from the States. No local "colour" is allowed, everything has to be as laid down by the Grand Viziers of Disney World. I swear that every detail on stage replicated the movie right down to the colour of the desert sands. World wide branding or what?

And the best "love" song? It was from another Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" - the audience roared in recognition. The trouble is, I suppose, I've been spoilt by "Shrek". "Aladdin" just doesn't hack it anymore.


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