The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Review: Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin has flown into Sunderland Empire on a flying carpet and set up camp for a lovely long stay. Susan Wear reports back from a shimmering production
Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie with the ensemble in Disney’s Aladdin at the Sunderland Empire. Credit: Deen Van Meer

The spectacular musical Aladdin opened at the Sunderland Empire with all the magic, fun and glamour you would expect from Disney – and more.

It’s a breathtakingly gorgeous show that shimmers and sparkles with non-stop song, dance and humour.  I might be biased because I love a good musical, but I defy anyone who says they don’t, to see this and not agree it’s a great night out.

There are the characters and familiar songs from the 1992 original animated film, when the role of the genie was brilliantly created by Robin Williams, but also a few new songs, high-energy choreography, and some surprises.

With more costume changes than Strictly, more dazzle than Blackpool Illuminations, and more gags than the average pantomime – it’s a prime example of how to give musical theatre fans value for their money.

The show shimmers from start to finish and that’s not just due to the efforts of what must be a huge wardrobe department (and costume design by Gregg Barnes). 

The sumptuous sets and special effects, along with Alan Menken’s superb score, the orchestra and a fabulous ensemble delivered the lasting feelgood factor that Sunderland Empire audiences have come to expect, following other Disney blockbusters including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King gracing the Wearside boards in recent years.

And more starshine comes from the hugely talented cast.  Drenched in glitter from head to toe, Yeukayi Ushe’s performance as the Genie was outstanding – even more exuberant and constantly full of positivity than the animated original, it was heart-rending when he thinks his dream of freedom might be taken away.

Gavin Adams, as Aladdin, was making his professional debut after graduating last year and a very assured performance it was, particularly singing the new number Proud of Your Boy.

A runner up in the I Have a Dream TVseries searching for a new Sophie for Mamma Mia!, Desmonda Cathabel is Jasmine, a convincingly feisty princess who won’t settle for less than love and couldn’t care less for the riches around her, showcasing her lovely voice in the solo These Palace Walls

The famous duet – A Whole New World – was sung by the pair, of course on a magic carpet flying around a sky full of stars – enough to leave the little girl next to me who knew all the words, finally spellbound.

And how exciting for a Sunderland audience to have one of their own in a leading role. 

L-R Angelo Paragoso, and North East actor Adam Strong as Jafar. Credit: Deen Van Meer

As Jafar, Adam Strong was the only cast member not speaking in a transatlantic accent and as good and camp a villain as you might hope for with some perfect comic timing between him and his sidekick Iago (Angelo Paragaso). The audience loved the knowing allusions to the film – “stop parroting me” says Jafar – and the awful jokes: “I want to be stinking rich”, says Iago.  “You’re half-way there,” says Jafar, holding his nose.

Aladdin’s trio of pals Nelson Bettencourt, Adam Taylor and Nay-Nay, as Babkak, Omar and Kassim add to the constant joshing and nonsense and clearly loved their second Act song High Adventure.  Along with Jo Servi, playing a regal but kindly Sultan, the whole cast was giving this show 100 percent, and as another neighbour remarked, they were clearly enjoying every second.

As were the audience, who gave a much-deserved standing ovation for another great night out at Sunderland Empire. 

It’s a ringing endorsement of the investment made so that it could accommodate the big West End shows, and of the theatre management who manage year after year to attract a programme that manages to bring Leicester Square to Keel Square, Sunderland.


The Centre for Life Science Centre was recently voted ‘best visitor experience in England’ following a Mystery visit survey from BVA BDRC

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