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Review: Take a magical carpet ride with Aladdin at the Wales Millennium Centre

Gavin Adams as Aladdin and Yeukayi Ushe as Genie with the Ensemble

This Christmas take a magical carpet ride, as Aladdin flies into the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on its first ever UK and Ireland tour.

The show continues its record-breaking run on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and since opening there in March 2014, nine subsequent productions have launched around the world, including its 2016 West End premiere at the Prince Edward Theatre, London where the show ran until August 2019. 

For those who don’t know the story of Aladdin, it is one of the better known middle-eastern folk tales from ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’. The stories were translated and compiled by Antoine Galland in 1704, ‘Aladdin and his Magic Lamp’ was added to the collection by Galland after hearing it told by a Syrian storyteller named Hanna Diab. 

It is one of those classic rags to riches stories, with the love story between Aladdin and Jasmine thrown in for good measure. 

Gavin Adams and Desmonda Cathabel Photo: Deen Van Meer

The story of Aladdin is based in Agrabah, a fictional city imagined for Disney’s first animated Aladdin film in 1992 and then again in 2019. The creators drew inspiration from the city of Baghdad in Iraq, as well as the Indian city of Agra’s Taj Mahal for the setting of the story’s royal palace.

The orphaned street rat Aladdin played by Gavin Adams on his professional theatre debut, falls for Princess Jasmine (Desmonda Cathabel) – who’s father the Sultan (Jo Serve) is trying to marry her off – after meeting her in the market place, having managed to escape the confines of her extravagant palace prison for a while. 

Mean while the evil Jafar (Adam Strong positively good at being bad) with the help of his loyal sidekick Iago (Angelo Paragoso) – not an actual parrot in this production – seeks to take control of the kingdom and become Sultan. The only way he can do that is with the help of a mythic lamp that is fabled to contain a genie. Not able to retrieve the lamp himself, he must hunt for only one who can enter The Cave of Wonders, ‘the diamond in the rough’. 

Gavin Adams as Aladdin Photo: Deen Van Meer

Having not heeded the caves warning about leaving all other treasure untouched, Aladdin finds himself trapped in the cave with the magic lamp he was sent to find. We follow the story of Aladdin to see if he can escape the sandy tomb and get the girl.

With a dramatic start and a rousing rendition of ‘Arabian Nights’ by Genie (Yeukayi Ushe) and company the scene is set. What a great use of the digit set – something that has definitely become the ‘in thing’ within theatre productions this year – it really brings the story to life and has the audience transported to feel part of the busy market place.

It’s difficult to imagine how the chase for “One Jump Ahead” is possible; confined to a stage when in the films it’s over, under and through buildings. We did consider the possibility of parkour, though with a big ensemble on stage and the wonderful set not being nailed now we imagine it would be too much of a health and safety risk. 

Unfortunately, there’s no Abu in this adaptation of the story, instead Aladdin has the support and backing vocals of his very own band of merry men Babkak (Nelson Bettencourt), Kassim (Nay-Nay) and Omar (Adam Taylor). Likewise, Jasmin has no Raja as a live tiger on stage may not end well.

Yeukayi Ushe as Genie Photo: Deen Van Meer

The stage quite literally sparkled during the smooth transition of Aladdin going through the opening of The Cave of Wonders, to inside. Practically every available space was covered in gold. It was a breath taking moment, leaving us truly in awe at the hard work that has clearly been but in by Bob Crowley and the team. 

The moment that everyone had more than likely been waiting for, and more than likely trying hard not to compare to the original animated movie, was Genie’s entrance. No one will be able to compare to Robin Williams, but when you’ve got stage presence like Yeukayi Ushe you don’t need to. He made the character his own and his fun personality really shown through.

We felt that the second act really missed an opportunity, it could have captured the audience’s attention and started off with a spectacular parade through the auditorium for ‘Prince Ali’. Although it was a wonderful musical number where we see Aladdin’s second wish of being a prince come to fruition, we felt it could have been bigger and added more to the experience.

Many of you may be wondering as we were, how one earth will they a manage a magic carpet ride? Well, we’re truly sure how it was done – and we think it’s nice to keep it that way – but it sure was magical. The digit set was an array of stars for the night sky as we see the moment Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love.

Featuring the timeless songs from the animated film, as well as new music by Tony®, Olivier®, Grammy® and eight-time Acadamy Award® winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Sister Act), lyrics by two-time Academy Award® winner Howard Ashman (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid), three-time Tony® and three-time Academy Award® winner Tim Rice (The Lion King, Evita, Aida) and six-time Tony® nominee Chad Beguelin (The Prom, The Wedding Singer), with a book by Beguelin, and is directed and choreographed by Tony® and Olivier® Award winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon).

It was difficult not to sing along with the cast when they started signing ‘Arabian Nights’, ‘Friend like me’ and ‘A Whole New World’ especially, as the performance that we watched included closed caption for those hard of hearing or deaf. 

Male and Female Ensemble Photo: Deen Van Meer

It’s not just the live orchestra contacted by Danny Troob or the amazing set that makes the production, it wouldn’t be what it is without the spectacular array of costumes. Greg Barnes, has truly brought the characters to life. From poor street rate Aladdin’s transformation to Prince Ali, Genie numerous costumes to the ensemble’s plethora of outfits. 

Will Genie be set free? Does Jafar take over the kingdom of Agrabah?

Experience the timeless story of Disney’s Aladdin this Christmas, a thrilling production filled with unforgettable magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle! Don’t miss this extraordinary theatrical event already seen by over 14 million people worldwide, where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite. 

What a great alternative to a Christmas panto and suitable for all the family to go along and enjoy, however performances are limited over the Christmas holidays.

Tickets for Aladdin start from £20 group booking discounts and concessions available. There are also fully accessible shows available with audio description, and signed.

You can find out more details on performance times and to book tickets here.