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REVIEW: Aladdin at Sunderland Empire


Sunderland Empire

Until Sunday 10 March 2024

Tickets are available from our affiliates ATG Tickets:

Disney's Aladdin has landed in Wearside on its first UK tour and it is a real family treat. The show not only brings the 1992 movie that sold over 25 million copies alive, it also features the music from the soundtrack that sold over 2 million copies, plus some extra songs that fit in well. It is a show that has big production values and manages to have that wow factor. 

Gavin Adams, Yeukayi Ushe, Ensemble

The action centres around the fictional middle-eastern city of Agrabah. It is a place full of the haves, who rule, and the have nots, who need to run scams in order to survive. Very quickly Yeukayi Ushe, as the Genie, is throwing in some references to point out that this is a fictional show taking place in Sunderland. As we are introduced to Gavin Adams, making his stage debut as Aladdin, and his friends Babak (Nelson Bettencourt), Omar (Adam Taylor) and Kassim (Nay-Nay), they joke "who would pay to see someone sing and dance?" the fourth wall is broken again and the tone is set for the show, This is going to be a very accessible theatre show that everyone can enjoy.

Gavin Adams making his stage debut as Aladdin

From the opening two numbers, Arabian Nights and One Jump Ahead you get a sense of three major features of the show: the tight direction and choreography from Casey Nicholaw is able to fill the huge stage; the costumes (Greg Barnes) and set (Bob Crowley) are going to be lavish; and there is going to be a sense a fun throughout. In this explosion of the senses it is easy to forget the lighting design (Natasha Katz) is picking everything out and setting the mood, the sound (Ken Travis) is coping with a huge number of voices, sound of which nicely fade away as they head off stage and the crew behind the scenes are working overtime. The speed of the costume changes, as they work through 162 different outfits between them is tremendous. Fun facts include that there are1,428 Swarovski crystals in a single pair of men’s pants in the finale of “Friend Like Me”, or that there are  5 layers of fabric in Jasmine’s Wedding skirt. All the beading is done by hand in India and California resulting in a garment which weighs 3kg, and it takes 200 hours for one beader to bead a new Aladdin Prince Ali jacket. As I say this show has a real "wow" factor. Even for someone who has the privilege to see as many shows as I do.

Desmonda Cathabel as Princess Jasmine

Of course there are 3 groups of characters in this production - we have mentioned poor Aladdin already. There's the royals and the bad guys. Jo Servi plays a Sultan who is clearly worried about succession and Desmonda Cathabel carries off the challenging dream role as Princess Jasmine. This Jasmine is a confident role model rather than a door mat. "Supporting" the Sultan with his decision making is power seeking Jafar and his side kick Iago. 

Sunderland's Adam Strong with Angelo Paragoso

Sunderland's very own Adam Strong returns to the region in a great performance as the cunning Jafar, who got a panto-like reception at the end proving how well he had performed the role. Angelo Paragoso is a contrasting funny sidekick as Lago and was often the source of the funny moments in the show.

Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie

In my humble opinion, any performance of Disney's version of Aladdin has massive shoes to fill. In the 1992 movie we have the sublime performance of the late great Robin Williams to fill as the Genie. This show not only has the brilliant Yeukayi Ushe pulling off a performance that really stands out, there has been some nice tweaks to the script to move the character from the film to the Sunderland stage. He makes reference in the cave to the fact that he is going to have a big production number but that really doesn't prepare one for the sheer scale of Friend Like Me. It was the topic of conversation during the interval.

Running in at two and a half hours, including interval, the show is nicely timed and well paced. The ensemble execute great dance routines that fill the stage with purpose, colour and movement. This is a really hard working cast. We have some nice theatrical tricks as Aladdin disappears in a box and when Jasmine joins him on the magic carpet for the big hit A Whole New World.

Gavin Adams, Desmonda Cathabel 

In the pit is a large live orchestra under the musical direction of Dave Rose. Having the luxury of a large group of musicians helps create a fuller and complex backing to each of the musical numbers.

Aladdin is a real treat. A show which delivers everything that it promised to. Wow! (...and regular readers know I don't say that very often!)

Gavin Adams

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Deen Van Meer

On the web:


Instagram: @aladdinuk

Twitter: @aladdinonstage 

Tickets are available from our affiliates ATG Tickets: 

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