Sunday, August 11, 2019

Review: MBS's 'Aladdin'

Aladdin The Musical
25 July, 2019 at The Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands
Review by Jeremy Lee

The year of Disney is upon us, what with live-action remakes of the studio’s classic movies Aladdin and The Lion King in cinemas, and the sequel to megahit Frozen coming later this year.

So what better time for the good folks at Base Entertainment Asia to bring in Aladdin The Musical?

An important distinction: The mega production running at the Marina Bay Sands till Sept 1 is a musical remake of the 1992 animated film, not the live-action film that was released a few months ago. What’s the difference? You won’t find “Speechless”, a new song for Jasmine written for the film, in the MBS show -- but instead you’ll be treated to 7 new songs, 3 of which were written for the film but cut.

Also, while the live-action film largely keeps to the plot of the 1992 film, the MBS show has new characters! Enter Babkak, Omar and Kassim, Aladdin friends and fellow thieves. They provide welcome comic relief, and their addition means more song and dance numbers, more witty lines and more colourful costumes. Jafar’s sidekick Iago, a parrot in the original film, is now a human being with his own hilarious comebacks.

So why should audiences who have already seen the animated movie and/or the live-action remake in cinemas shell out to watch Aladdin The Musical? We can think of a few reasons:

1. Asian bragging rights

This is where we have bragging rights over our regional friends -- this production, which started in Sydney in 2016, is ending its tour by making a special stop outside of Australia and New Zealand to perform on our sunny island. That means if you miss this chance, who knows when you might be able to see this show without having to make a journey to the West?

2. New songs

As mentioned earlier, loads of spanking-new songs have been included in the stage production. All the songs you know and love, from Arabian Nights to A Whole New World, are there of course, but you may not have heard of Proud Of Your Boy, which was actually written for the animated film but cut and replaced by One Jump Ahead. Its triumphant return in the stage musical means that audiences can finally catch the song as it takes its rightful place in the show.

And if you can’t get wait till Act 2’s A Whole New World to hear Aladdin and Jasmine sing together, you will love A Million Miles Away, a new song written for the musical, where the lovebirds sing together moments after meeting for the first time.

3. Big, bigger, biggest

This show is BIG. According to the production crew, it’s the biggest show to ever be brought in to the Sands Theatre. To give a sense of the sheer magnitude of the production, some of the stuff brought into Singapore includes 20 tons of hanging scenery, over 150 moving lights and more than 100 automatic scenic effects. It’s almost as if they moved the entire Cave of Wonders to Singapore!

And the attention to detail is incredible, especially in the gorgeous and intricately designed costumes -- all 337 of them, some of which spend mere seconds on stage. They are made up of a total of 1,225 different fabrics and 712 different styles of beads, and also comprise 161 pairs of custom-made shoes. They are heavy and pricey too -- one single pair of men’s pants features 1,428 Swarovski cystals.

How can there be so much time to show off so many costumes? It helps that there are 108 costume changes that take place is less than 1 minute, and 58 more costume changes that take place in less than 30 seconds.

The multiple set and costume changes mean that almost every song and dance number is backed with the necessary spectacle, glitz and razzle-dazzle that harks back to the good old days of musical theatre, treating the audience to eye candy in every scene -- especially showstoppers like Friend Like Me, Prince Ali and A Whole New World.

And about the famous scene where Jasmine hops onto Aladdin’s magic carpet: If you were wondering whether they would be able to recreate the enchanting jaunt on stage, let’s just say that they did, and in an appropriately spellbinding fashion. It’s clear the crowd who watched the show with us during the gala night weren’t disappointed, judging from the “oohs” and “aahs” we heard. How did they do it? Words can’t adequately describe it here, so you’ll just have to watch the show to find out!

4. Top-notch cast

To be able to perform in a Disney musical, one must be one of the best talents in the world, and the cast that has been assembled for this production is no exception, as there isn’t a weak performer in the bunch.

While Graeme Isaako brings back the playfulness and charm into his version of Aladdin, the beautiful Shubshri Kandiah is a breath of fresh air as Princess Jasmine, with a sweet but strong voice and a regal stage presence.

It’s Gareth Jacobs, however, who steals the show as everyone’s favourite character, the Genie. He does admirably in the daunting task of taking on a role made famous by the legendary Robin Williams, pulling it off with charisma, gregariousness and flamboyance that makes the audience look forward to his every appearance and each witty comeback. In fact, one might say he has made the role his own with a take on the Genie that is campier and edgier, but never without humour and good naturedness. In his most anticipated Friend Like Me sequence, he infuses his lines with knowing in jokes delivered at breakneck speed, seemingly irrepressible as he tap dances, riffs and even reprises classic tunes from other Disney musicals (those of you who love Beauty And The Beast, you’re in for a treat).

Speaking of camp, one can’t neglect to mention Jafar (Patrick R. Brown), who plays the archetypal villain with obvious relish, alongside his foil Iago (Doron Chester), a thuggish parrot converted into comic relief.

More comic relief can be found in Aladdin’s friends Babkak (Troy Sussman), Omar (Adam Di Martino) and Kassim (Rob Mallet), originally planned for the 1992 film but replaced by the monkey Abu. While they are obvious stereotypes, they also provide much of the musical’s throwaway jokes and are behind two big numbers Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim and High Adventure.

We’re sure that these four reasons we conjured up are enough to get you down to theatre if you haven’t already booked your show, but in case you’re still dithering, we can say that while we entered the theatre with high hopes given the usual standards of a Disney musical, what we saw exceeded our already-lofty expectations, and that’s saying a lot. This is a show for the ages and simply unmissable.

Aladdin runs till 1 September 2019 at the Sands Theatre of Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are available at