Gauche, perhaps, to complain about Aladdin but it slightly deserves it. The terrific Genie opens the show and then disappears for 45 minutes while the plot is explained. My squirmy ten-year-old kept whispering Aladdin-related trivia at me in order to occupy himself as the rags-to-riches storyline was laid out in far too much detail. Visually the show is impressive, despite minor flaws. The rangy architectural sets are intricate confections of teetering filigree but they look a little factory-fresh and unlived-in. Behind them the daylight skies are wrongly composed of a single hue (only the night sky has a single hue).
Aladdin is played by Dean John-Wilson, a cocky slab of tanned muscle, whose reluctance to shine in the part cedes the limelight to Princess Jasmine (Jade Ewen, an absolute knockout). She plays the truculent royal as a gobby campus activist who claims the right to choose her husband and rule as his equal. This role will be the making of Ewen, a newcomer to the West End. She’s supported by a retinue of semi-naked dancers who are so attractive they ought to be arrested (and in the parts of the world where the tale is set they probably would be).
Once the action moves to Aladdin’s cave, the show enters a new realm of fun, excitement and drama. The story begins at long last: Aladdin must use the Genie’s magic to win love for himself and liberty for his benefactor. The amazing cave, designed by Bob Crowley, seems almost to be alive. Layer upon layer of sumptuous colour and light appear to recede in a glittering cascade from the zenith of the proscenium arch to the farthest reaches of the rear wall. Rarely have six wooden flats and a coating of Dulux been deployed to such dazzling effect.