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Disney’s Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre)

 

aladdin

On entering the auditorium of the Prince Edward Theatre, the curtain is flying carpet themed, and during the overture you realise this is going to be a show of many, vibrant colours, an Arabian splendour.

‘Aladdin’ was a Disney film from 1992, which notably had Robin Williams firing on all cylinders as the Genie, and here the huge frame and personality of Trevor Dion Nicholas brings this pivotal role to life, as he introduces the setting and the story at the top of the show.

genie

Aladdin himself, played by Dean John-Wilson, is  a little bland for my taste, although he has the physique and now and then his singing hits the spot (more so in ‘Proud Of Your Boy, a Menken-Ashman song which didn’t get included in the film, than in some of the wilder and more vibrant numbers).  As Princess Jasmine, Jade Ewen (a former Eurovision entrant and Sugababe, although neither are mentioned in her resume) , is good and feisty, but I didn’t sense any real chemistry between her and John-Wilson, while their big duet ‘A Whole New World’ was rather upstaged by the magic carpet they are flying on during the number.

The big spectacle closes Act One, in the catchy and fun ‘Friend Like Me’, in which Nicholas leads a whole troop of dancers doing ballroom, acrobatics, and eventually tap in a cheeky 42nd Street pastiche, all set in a cave lined with gold leaf.  Modest and understated, this isn’t.  As this is a Broadway show brought to the UK, we get lots of references which are uniquely British: in the Genie’s first scene, he pulls out an umbrella with the Union Flag when he is looking for the lamp, there is a call and response routine which uses Bruce Forsyth’s catchphrase, and there is a brief nod to ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, as well as a Tommy Cooper joke at the expense of Aladdin’s fez before his transformation into ‘Prince Ali’.

This is a fairytale writ large, with lots of costume changes, magic special effects, and an amusing trio of pals for Aladdin replacing the monkey of the original film.  There are hissable bad guys too, in the shape of the vizier Jafar and his sidekick Iago (who was a bird in the film, I think).  They resemble Paul Daniels and Teller which added to the amusement for me, and they are both absolutely fine within the context of this admittedly thin plot.

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Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre)

This much-heralded West End revival of the Boublil-Schonberg musical brings back the doomed love story of Kim the bar-girl and Chris the marine (based loosely on the opera ‘Madame Butterfly’) with some new choreography, a slight reboot of lyrics, a new song for Ellen, and a cast which is headed by show veteran Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and new discovery Eva Noblezada as Kim.

If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll know what to expect – epic staging, emotional impact, humorous interludes, and excellent performances.  And yes, the helicopter is back, in one of the staging highlights.  Last night’s show had the understudy (Niall Sheehy) on for Chris, and to my eyes he didn’t quite have the chemistry needed to gel with Eva’s Kim, although their duets (‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘Last Night of the World’) were still affecting.

The opening sequence in the sleazy Saigon bar – ‘The Heat is On’ – now has different lyrics and feels a little bit cramped and cheap, but despite this Gigi’s predicament as the crowned whore who cannot get a passage out of the hell-hole she finds herself in to a better life is well portrayed by Rachelle Ann Go.  As John (Hugh Maynard) sets the tragedy in motion by buying the sexual services of the innocent Kim for Chris, the fall of Saigon seems just a heartbeat away.

Other highlights are the vibrant victory parade ‘Morning of the Dragon’, the choral melody of ‘Bui-Doi’ (although I am not a fan of Maynard’s approach to this, a bit too gospel for me), the intensity of ‘This is the Hour’, and the light relief of the big production number ‘The American Dream’ where we find that The Engineer’s ambition only stretches as far as being the greatest pimp in the Western world, as he postures around in cheap plastic pants and attitude singing of selling blondes ‘you can charge on a card’.

I did miss Ellen’s solo ‘Her or Me’ in the early years, then ‘Now That I’ve Seen Here’.  The new song, ‘Maybe’ is OK, but just not as memorable, and it does not advance the story as much.

All these years after the close of the Vietnam war, ‘Miss Saigon’ feels more a historical piece than it did back in 1989. when the cast was made up of a mainly Western cast even in the Asian roles.  Now the cast is majority Filipino or Korean, and what a talented bunch they are.  The night belongs to Eva Noblezada though.  Only eighteen and able to bring all the vulnerability and strength of soul the role requires to this exceptional staging.

 

 


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