Over a month ago in late June, I was browsing Ticketmaster and saw the Aladdin stage production upcoming. Tickets, I had to get.
It had been a long time since I had attended a musical. The last had been Fiddler on the Roof, featuring original cast member Topol playing the lead, Tevye. That would have been going back a number of years—actually, I’ve Googled it: 2007 the show was in town. Has time flown or has time flown.
This quote by CS Lewis comes to mind:
Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.
Clive had that right. Everything is different.
But I digress.
We saw Aladdin on the Saturday in the week just past. The posters all over the place at the moment give nothing away. The set, the cast, the costumes, the performance are far more fantastical and fabulous than you’d imagine!
I’d booked us almost-centre seats in row D. They were right up near the stage, and we had a great view. This was the first time I’d been close enough to the stage to see—and therein fully appreciate (read: sit there bedazzled by all that glitter and all those Swarovski crystals)—the expressions of the performers and intricacies of the set. The proximity from the stage made a massive difference.
I had to applaud the incredible effort to bring Aladdin to the stage. From the musicality, the performances, the energy of the performers, the polished transitions between acts, costumes, and sets, and the spectacular outfits, the entire two hours delivered a full-throttle stageshow as colourful and as busy as the streets of Agrabah.
The Australian cast were excellent. Gareth Jacobs nailed his role as the Genie. He brought the Genie to life with sass and high intensity performances. Jacobs had the X Factor. He was a natural at working in his own stamp on the role, while at all times remaining true to the iconic character, made famous by Robin Williams.
I loved the Broadway-born production’s localisation of Aladdin for the Aussie crowd. This was mainly through humourous quips from Jacobs, who succeeded at seemlessly incorporating Tim-Tams, Vegemite, and at one point Kwinana, into the Genie’s dialogue.
Ainsley Melham showed his versatility and prowess as a performer playing the role of Aladdin. He brought to the role a sense of believability and realness. Melham drew us in from the outset, leading us to suspend reality and immerse ourselves into the world of Aladdin.
In many of his performances, seasoned ex-Hi 5 professional Melham seemed to take the back seat to the roles of his co-stars, though not for want of enthusiasm or energy. Rather, it seemed to be a creative direction to give the other performers time in the spotlight. I initially questioned whether Melham was completely encompassing his leading man role—was he being overshadowed? I then realised that this was great positioning of the audience. It worked brilliantly.
As a viewer, it assisted with the characterisation of Aladdin as a pretty average guy. Aladdin was content being out of the spotlight. With his reputation as a street rat, perhaps he was even trying to avoid it. He wasn’t out for the gold or glitter. He hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His crime was falling for a princess.
While there were plenty of elaborate scenes and visually stunning sets, there were also reeled back moments. With the bells and whistles dropped and the extravagance toned down, it was the magic of the timeless tale that captured our attention. This played on the very human desires for freedom, acceptance, and love. Desires we can all identify with.
Clever framing of the performances, showed us that Melham’s Aladdin wasn’t royalty in every scene he was in; he was simply another cast member. We saw that Aladdin wasn’t after fame or fortune. He was humble. His motivations were pure. He wanted to make his late mother proud. It wasn’t Princess Jasmine he’d fallen for, but Jasmine. Echoing the words of Jafar and Iago, the naivety and rawness Melham depicted confirmed to us that Aladdin was indeed a ‘diamond in the rough’. Humility and truth, and love conquering all, flowed through Melham’s performances.
Shrubshri Kandiah impressed with her portrayal of Jasmine. From Kandiah, we saw that having riches doesn’t equate to a life of freedom and happiness. Kandiah’s Jasmine was fiesty, confident and frustrated with her lack of agency in a clearly patriarchal society. Kandiah’s performance gave us a strong sense of Jasmine as an empowered, modern woman, unafraid to stand for her beliefs, and willing to break tradition. Outspoken and opinionated, she rejected the princess stereotype. Her appearances instead wove in themes of equity and change. She asked us to question cultural norms, the validity of law, and to have courage not to accept the status-quo. The laws of the land being changed, decried as outdated as a result of Jasmine’s refusal to bend to tradition, was vindication that change was possible.
The weakest moment was unfortunately the song that should have been the apogee of the show: Aladdin and Jasmine’s duet ‘A Whole New World’. The singing sounded a little off key, the ‘magic carpet’ paled in comparison to what we’d already seen, and the build up to the moment fell short. The song lacked the richness in voice, feeling and chemistry of the original. While they had rubbed us the wrong way with this one, they hadn’t ruined the emphatic Aladdin classic.
Overall, it was a fantastic show and a very enjoyable night. I would highly recommend it just for the experience. It was totally worth the dollarydoos.
My biggest take-away was the joy the cast displayed throughout the show. These talented ladies and gents seemed so genuinely happy it was infectious! To be able to entertain, to make people happy, to do that for a living, I don’t think many things would compare.
Now I just need to find that magic lamp.