Left – Gareth Jacobs and Ainsley Melham. Cover – Ainsley Melham. Photos – Deen van Meer
In a world somewhat struggling to breathe under the woes of the modern day one can often be forced to ask themselves some important questions. What kind of footprint do I want to imprint on this planet? How can I laugh at something with my heart AND my politically correct mind? How many smashed avocado toasts must I surrender to get that house deposit? So much stress in life means we need an out. The answer? Disney. A much loved, never forgotten and sometimes culturally misappropriated Disney tale will often be the quick fix for any of life's woes, whether you are an aging boomer who feels lost in the contemporary world or a Gen Y who was in to 'that' thing before it was cool. Disney is not always relevant of the times, but it is always timeless.
Based on the Disney film, this production directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw has stopped at nothing to bring you all the glitz, glamour and glory that you could possibly expect to see from a production of this importance. With such high expectations from a crowd that grew up knowing every word of every song (and also the horn parts of aforementioned songs) it was never going to be easy to maintain it's integrity and still bring a show stopper with fresh new material and a few new additions to an old plot line. No one could describe this better than Genie himself (played by the very talented Gareth Jacobs) who sang “A plot that you knew, with a small twist or two, but the changes we made were slight...”
In any theatre production it is the stage design, costumes and lighting which help to convey a message, sometimes even more than the actors or content themselves and this production has definitely accomplished this. So much credit must be given to Natasha Katz (lighting) and Bob Crowley (scenic design) who have managed to bring to life the marketplace of Agrabah, Jasmine's chambers and of course – the jaw dropping Cave of Wonders. Never have I yearned more to climb on stage and immerse myself in a mythical world. Until I die, this might actually be the most impressive thing I have ever seen on stage. Dripping in gold, surrounded by the wonder of it all, no man alive could “touch nothing but the lamp!” If you're going to be locked in a cave for eternity, I could think of no better place. This scene alone would be worth every penny spent on front row seats. The wonder doesn't stop there though: costume design (thanks to Gregg Barnes) were the stuff dreams are made of... 300 costumes made here in Australia were enough to blind you (if the Cave of Wonders hadn't) and I had lost count of the amount of times I had heard my 10 year old companion say “WOOOOOOAAHHH” just within the first ten minutes. The colour, the design, the way Genie's pants span out when he spins – every last detail was an absolute delight for the senses. I personally (as I am sure many people do) have always enjoyed theatre for these three elements – they could have stood there without uttering a word and I would still have walked away as full of joy as any person could be. Hats off, hands down, the most impressive array of colour and movement I have seen yet. Having the opinion of a child too was such a blessing as she was not much older than I would have been when the original Disney film had been released and it is hard to win over the logic of a mind that knows 'this is the part when...'
This production of Aladdin may stray from the original, add back story where previously none was available and may have tweaked a little to fit a local audience (Tim Tam reference, anyone?) but it is sure not to disappoint any fan.
Playing a role that is so well known is arguably one of the hardest challenges to face, but Gareth Jacobs (Genie) has taken it on, twisted it up and made it fabulous, darling. Armed with a big personality and a brilliant Jazz inspired touch, he has really brought Genie in to a whole new world. The ability to deliver such a (literally) magical role with pizazz and contemporary comic wit could not be easy and he never faltered – not once. When the cast delivered 'Never had a friend like me' it was an eye-popping, show stopping extravaganza that contained everything from tap dancing to pyrotechnics and hours after (surely days after I imagine) will have the audience still asking themselves 'can your friends do this...?'
Aladdin (Ainsley Melham) and Jasmine (Hiba Elchikhe) have both had big shoes to fill and have been able to fit snuggly in to the roles. It's hard to bring a big Broadway style and not come off as a little twee, but even when it seems stereotypical it still is no less entertaining. The Magic Carpet scene is something to behold. How did they make that carpet fly? Seriously – HOW? The two have a believable connection and have maintained the magic of the classic Disney romance, although some parts admittedly did feel a little rushed. But again, that's probably just a little bit of bias from a die-hard fan.
The real treat is the substitution of the beloved sidekicks. 'Abu' the monkey has been replaced with three friends named Babkak (Troy Sussman), Kassim (Adam Jon Fiorentino) and Omar (Robert Tripolino) and have given way to a whole new plot twist alongside the addition of a very catchy song that pleased and delighted the audience. Slapstick antics and some light hearted fun made the spaces in between lots of fun. The other noteworthy substitution is that of Iago (Aljin Abella) who's pants were puffy like that of a parrot but came across more like the mischievous monkey-magicesque type of co-conspirator. The real surprise was the undeniable love for Jafar (Adam Murphy) and Iago (Aljin Abella). You love to hate them and they continuously delivered with their delightfully devilish antics. I feel an evil laugh coming on...
Much credit is given to the amazing ensemble too, who time and time again filled every space with the ritz and razzle that a brilliant Broadway style production most definitely needs. You could work your whole life just to try to be as good as the unsung heros of the ensemble and I am sure many of these faces will be at the forefront of their own feature one day. A real handful of 'Diamonds in the Rough'...
So if this modern world is making you feel trapped, when you feel like you have to stay one jump ahead of the hit men, one hit ahead of the flock it might be time to hop a carpet and fly to another another Arabian night. Upgrade your Disney dream and immerse yourself in this magical moment of pure entertainment, you won't regret it.
Disney Theatrical Productions presents
music Alan Menken | lyrics Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin | book Chad Beguelin
Director Casey Nicholaw
Venue: Lyric Theatre | QPAC
Dates: 23 February – 3 June 2018