Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.
A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.
But the show is called Aladdin, and there’s no escaping that he’s a dud of a character. As is his high-born love interest Jasmine, Chad Beguelin’s book surprisingly weak here. Which leaves the show at a pretty pass, for neither Dean John-Wilson nor Jade Ewen can do too much to invest any kind of real life into them or the jolly japes they work their way through – Ewen does try valiantly though to inject some kind of positive feminist message into a story that is appallingly, dare one say it unforgivingly, lacking in that respect.
You can point to the devilishly good time that Don Gallagher and Peter Howe have as the nefarious Jafar and (humanised) Iago; or to the boisterous camaraderie of Aladdin’s coterie of (male) monkeying pals, Stephen Rahman-Davies and Nathan Amzi standing out here; there really is much to enjoy here on this magic carpet ride. But for all the theatrical pizzazz, there’s not enough emotional magic to keep you soaring, tumbling, freewheeling like the best fairytales should. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre

“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.

From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold. Continue reading “Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales

“When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right”

This is going to be less of a review than a jumbled thought piece coming out from the marketing campaign for The Book of Mormon which has seen unprecedented levels of saturation across London. The publicity for the show started way back, adverts on buses and in tube stations have been appearing for months now but the week leading up to last Thursday’s press night saw an absolute deluge of coverage which meant it was even harder to escape. Lengthy preview features which all but reviewed the show were printed in newspapers; the #LoveMormon twitter campaign went into overdrive, using many of those tweets as quotes in adverts which, following the gala opening night, included an incredible four page ad just featuring tweets from celebrities.

One might have imagined such levels of hype would be hard to live up to but by all accounts, it has worked as a press release arrived yesterday trumpeting that The Book of Mormon had broken the record for the biggest single day of sales the previous day, taking in an astonishing £2,107,972 and this from a show which had already pretty much sold out until the summer. Of course, one could point to the ticket prices to explain some of the maths – the majority of the tickets are retailing at £74.50 and £127, £39.50 is as far as the cheap seats go (day lottery aside) – but nonetheless, the achievement shouldn’t be underestimated. Continue reading “Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales”