Finally the last of my musical pre-orders has arrived; but has it been worth the wait?
Yes and No.
There is a charm and innocence to Disney musicals (both film and stage) that appeals to my inner child. They produce wholesome popcorn entertainment that doesn't challenge the mind or the ears too much.
I've always been a huge fan of Disney and a new stage version is a no-brainer purchase for me.
Not all of their stage adaptations have worked as well as others. Tarzan instantly springs to mind. Some of their films simply don't translate to the stage as well as they should. Even The Little Mermaid (one of their most popular films of all time) failed on stage (although I loved the recording).
Still, when I heard that a stage version of Aladdin was being developed I was very excited (even more so when I read that they're also developing The Hunchback of Notre Dame - my favourite Disney film).
Anyway, the CD arrived yesterday and I've now listened to it three times.
It's good. But, it's not great. At least not to someone who has hundreds of musicals and has recently had the pleasure of hearing some brilliant contemporary shows.
So, what exactly is good or bad about this production?
The expanded opening song - Arabian Nights - does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere, introducing the characters and setting up the story. Loved it.
The cast. Everyone does a very good job. Adam Jacobs makes for a very charming and cheeky Aladdin especially. Also, Robin Williams is an incredibly hard act to follow but the Broadway Genie does a very good job of giving it his own interpretation.
The new songs - some of the new songs were actually written for the film (most notably Proud of Your Boy) and it's great to have them back. Others were written specifically for this production.
The tendency to be too self aware. Having the Genie singing excerpts from Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid while amusing does pull the listener out of the show. As does making a joke about the fact that all the characters sing - a way of letting the audience know they're at a musical. It's all unnecessary and distracting.
Also, the rendition of A Whole New World leaves a LOT to be desired. This is the iconic song from this musical. It's a beautiful ballad and high-point of the film, but, for some reason the producers of this production decided that down-playing this song would be a good idea. Yes, it results in some of the new songs standing out to a greater extent, but it's an injustice to the song in my opinion.
There's nothing really original here. While I really enjoyed the new songs, I'm conscious of the fact that some of the melodies were very, very similar to previous Alan Menken (composer) songs. For example, new song Diamond in the Rough is very similar in its construction and format to Mushnik & Son from an earlier Menken show Little Shop of Horrors. This is not always a bad thing - but harsher critics than me will probably rip the show apart for something like that.
None of the above will bother younger listeners or casual theatre goers - who will probably lap up the atmosphere, catchy tunes, exciting story and incredible visuals. I guess I just wanted more from a Disney show.
If you like Disney I would recommend the Australian Cast Recording (aka The Live version) of Mary Poppins, the Broadway Casts of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
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