Friday, 26 April 2019

Aladdin the Musical at the Prince Edward Theatre, London

I’m sure you’ll know by now that I’m a massive Disney fan, but I’m also really into musicals, as is my Mum. So when her birthday came round this year, I decided to buy two tickets for us to go and see Disney’s Aladdin the Musical up in London. I’d heard a lot of good reviews of it, but even after hearing those, the show still well exceeded my expectations.

Early one Saturday, we took a very packed train up to London Waterloo (turns out we’d picked the same day the Rugby was on!) and got a taxi over to the West End. I had planned to take my Mum to Pizza Express for a nice lunch before the show, but as we approached the restaurant I noticed there were some steps to get in. My Mum went inside to ask for their ramp, but after what felt like ages, came back out to tell me that they didn’t have a ramp and so we couldn’t eat there. Their excuse for not having a ramp was because they don’t have a disabled toilet! Just in case anyone reads this who happens to run a restaurant – most disabled people I’ve spoken to would rather be given the choice to still come and eat in a restaurant, whether there is a disabled toilet or not. As long as you make it clear when we first come in to the restaurant, it shouldn’t be a problem and is then our decision whether we would need that accessible toilet or not. Unfortunately, because this all took up quite a lot of our time, we ended up just grabbing a McDonalds, which wasn’t really the nice lunch I’d had planned.

Thankfully, as soon as we got to the Prince Edward Theatre, our experience improved dramatically. The security guards quickly spotted us looking for a way to get in, and directed us round to a side entrance where we waited for a lady called Heidi, who would be looking after us that afternoon. As we were a bit early and the house wasn’t open yet, Heidi asked if we would like to go into the foyer or use the toilets (to which I said yes!) Unless you’ve been in a wheelchair, you may not appreciate how overwhelming it can be trying to get through tightly packed crowds of people all pushing and shoving to get to where they want to be. But Heidi was fantastic; walking in front of me and clearing a path so I could get to the toilets without people bashing into me. I told her I needed someone like her with me all the time!

Once we’d made ourselves more comfortable, Heidi took us back around to the side entrance and we were able to go in to our seats. There are two choices when it comes to disabled seats – you can either go in a box and stay in your wheelchair, or transfer from your chair into a seat in an accessible part of the theatre. I had decided to transfer, as we weren’t 100% sure if my chair would fit through the door into the box (in retrospect I think it would have been OK). So I took my chair right up to the first row of the Dress Circle and transferred across to a seat with a pretty amazing view. My chair was then taken off to be stored, but I was told I could ask for it back at any time if I needed to use the facilities. 

As we sat down, I suddenly realised we hadn’t been able to buy a programme or look at any of the merchandise, so I mentioned this to Heidi. I honestly thought we would have to go all the way back round to the foyer, but instead, Heidi asked one of the Disney staff to come to our seat with the merchandise so we could buy anything we wanted without having to go anywhere. My Mum bought the programme package, which consists of two different books, as well as an Aladdin tote bag. We sat chatting excitedly, flicking through the programme as we waited for the show to start.

I was really intrigued to see how they had translated the original film into a theatre show, and as with any classic, was a bit nervous about whether they would do it justice. But I really shouldn’t have worried – it was AMAZING!! I honestly don’t think I can find the words to fully explain what a fantastic show Aladdin is. It had me crying, laughing, signing and dancing, and by the end I really didn’t want to leave! 

When we saw it, Matthew Croke was playing Aladdin and Jade Ewen was Jasmine. They both did an amazing job of bringing the two main characters to life on the stage. Aladdin came across, just like in the film, as a cheeky and fun young man, and Jasmine was just as beautiful as she is in the animated film. 

But by far my favourite character in the show had to be the Genie, played by the amazing Trevor Dion Nicholas. I think it’s probably the hardest role to play, as with Robin Williams playing the original Genie in the film, there are huge shoes to fill. But Trevor brought everything you could possibly wish for to the role. He was incredibly funny, sassy and had the whole audience crying with laughter with his witty one-liners and feisty comebacks. He also has the most insane voice, which was particularly noticeable in the Friend Like Me number, which nearly had me crying happy tears because of how well put together it was. It had a whole part that was just dedicated to tap dancing, which for someone that used to do tap was pretty darn awesome! And it even included some snippets of other Disney songs that really showed off Trevor’s incredible talent. I just wanted to take him home with me at the end!

Talking of the music, I was so impressed with the way Alan Menken (who has also written music for films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Tangled – seriously, he’s amazing!) had not only included some well-known songs from the Aladdin film, but also composed some brand new pieces for the stage show. And with beautiful lyrics from Howard Ashman, Sir Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, I was desperate to buy the soundtrack and listen to it on repeat over and over again! It was so nice to hear some of my favourites, like ‘A Whole New World’ and ‘Friend Like Me’ whilst also hearing new songs like the touching ‘Proud of Your Boy.’ 

Before the show, I was wondering what the set would be like, as I knew from the film that there are a fair few locations, some of which are pretty difficult to replicate in a relatively small theatre. But, like with everything else, I was awestruck by how the team (Bob Crowley on Scenic Design, Gregg Barnes on Costume Design, Natasha Katz on Lighting Design and Ken Travis who designed the Sound) had managed to bring everything to life. The street and palace scenes were full of colour, charm and a fair amount of sparkle, but by far the standout scene for me was the Cave of Wonders. I actually couldn’t believe what I was seeing! This golden cave just seemed to appear out of nowhere in front of us and was the perfect background for the big number before the interval!

I was also left speechless by the famous magic carpet scene. I don’t want to give too much away in case you’re hoping to see it, but I still cannot work out how they made that carpet fly! Watching that and listening to ‘A Whole New World’ left me feeling rather emotional (yep, I’m one of those people that cries at Disney songs!) 

The production came to an end all too quickly and I remember sitting in my seat for a minute just thinking that it couldn’t possibly be over – I just wanted to watch it all over again! As the audience started to leave the theatre, Heidi returned with my wheelchair and helped us back out of the side door. I needed the loo again by this point, so again, she cleared a path for us back round to the foyer so we could reach the toilets without being trampled by everyone leaving. By the time we’d come out of the toilets, the foyer was looking much more empty, which meant we were able to have a proper look at all the merchandise behind the counters (there were a few bits that hadn’t been brought to our seat). I’m a big pin badge collector, so when I noticed they were selling an Aladdin the Musical pin badge, I knew I needed to get one to add to my collection!

On our way to the theatre in the taxi, I had spotted the patisserie Maître Choux just a couple of streets away, so I told my Mum I would treat her to a fancy éclair as we hadn’t been able to have a special lunch. Unfortunately, there was a step into the store, and again, my Mum was told there was no ramp. It was getting cold, rainy and dark, so there was no way I was going to sit in the middle of the pavement eating an éclair, so in the end, feeling slightly upset and frustrated, we just made our way home. It’s a real shame, because the production was so amazing and the disabled access at the theatre was brilliant, but the two experiences of trying to get food and not being able to did spoil our day a bit. 

Still, I’m really glad I was able to take my Mum to see such a fantastic show and am so thankful for how easy Heidi and the rest of the Prince Edward Theatre staff made our afternoon there. 

If you like the sound of Aladdin the Musical and fancy going to see it yourself, you’ll have to be fairly quick, as it’s closing in August 2019! From Monday to Saturday it plays at 7.30pm, but on Thursdays and Saturdays there are also matinee performances at 2.30pm. You can book tickets through the website, but if you need an accessible seat, it is better to ring on 0344 482 5137 or buy them in person at the Box Office. 

Seeing Aladdin the Musical has definitely given me the musical theatre bug and I’m now desperate to go and see more shows (I have a rather long wish list, as well as wanting to go back and see Aladdin again!) Although I haven’t seen many shows, this one is definitely up there with my favourites, so if you love the original movie and are looking for something funny, full of sparkle, laughter and with music you can sing along to for weeks afterwards, I would definitely recommend booking Aladdin soon.

Are you a fan of the theatre? Have you seen Aladdin or are there any other shows you would recommend I put on my wish list?

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