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Aladdin review: A show-stopping Genie finally brings Disney’s stage musical fully to life

Theatre: Yeukayi Ushe’s commanding turn earns a fourth star for what is otherwise a merely serviceable adaptation of the animated film


Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

The opening of this staged version of Disney’s Aladdin is narrated by Genie, our guide to Agrabah, that “faraway place where the caravan camels roam, where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”, and the sultan is looking for a prince to marry his daughter, Jasmine. Royalty and romance are insignificant aspects of this version of Aladdin, however. Really, from the opening frame, it’s all about Genie. What a pity, then, that we have to wait until the very end of the first half for him to reappear.

Chad Beguelin’s book ably expands on the source material, bringing greater depth to the story, while also adding lyrics to new songs from Alan Menken. Under the direction of the director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, scenes are snappy, quickly establishing character and conflict. We have our hero, Aladdin (Aaron Elijah Patel), our villain (Adam Strong as Jafar) and our princess (Desmonda Cathbel). But it is the leading characters’ sidekicks who really capture our attention, transformed from the memorable simian and avian form of the cartoon by slapstick gestures and physical comedy: three cheers for Kassim (Nay-Nay), Babkak (Nelson Bettencourt) and Omar (Adam Taylor), and for Angelo Paragoso’s Iago, who manages to embody a parrot with a single feather in his turban.

And yet, even with the busy, exciting chase of One Jump, the diversion of Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim, and the dastardly duet of Diamond in the Rough, the musical doesn’t come fully to life until the story gets to Bob Crowley’s stunning glittering cavern and Genie makes himself known again in all his show-stopping, cynical splendour. With tremendous vim, Yeukayi Ushe commands an incredible extended version of Friend Like Me, summoning illusions (designed by Jim Steinmeyer) and an exhaustive catalogue of musical and pop-cultural references (including a Disney’s Greatest Hits karaoke segment).

If Ushe did nothing else for the rest of the show, he would have done enough to earn the fourth star for what is otherwise a merely serviceable musical. Thankfully, he sticks around for the whole of the second half, as Aladdin fulfils his destiny and learns that it is better to polish his personality than to pretend to be someone he is not.

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer