Sunday, 26 December 2021

REVIEW: Aladdin at the Manchester Opera House

The production at Manchester Opera House of Aladdin shows what can be achieved if you have a strongly committed cast giving it their all to deliver a perfect Christmas Entertainment as they take a standard Alan McHugh script and inject it with passion, comedy, and energy. It must be tempting for the cast to think they need to pace themselves over fifty shows, but the audience needs to believe that in this show the cast are throwing everything at it and are loving the result. This cast led by Alexandra Burke, who is becoming an accomplished musical theatre performer and the irrepressible cheeky chappie, Ben Nickless, with fab-u-Lous support from Ceri Dupree and a powerful controlled performance by John McLarnon as Abanazar gave that impression on a Monday night that they were having as much fun on stage as we were having watching them. It was a practically perfect execution of pantomime.

Ben Nickless packs a great deal of comedy routines into the two-hour 10-minute running time including interval but there is still plenty of time for the others to shine. His impressions are good (Alan Carr, John Bishop, Michael McIntyre, Keith Lemon, Harry Redknapp, and The Simpsons), his political digs are witty rather than bitter, his covid gags seem appropriate and his reactions and engagement with the cast and audience is superb throughout. It is a hilarious gag when he explains he learned to be a Ventriloquist during lockdown, but the dummy requires him to wear a mask as he is within two metres. He also breathes fresh life into the Producer’s Crossroads standard routines of the trunk of truth, one shirt short tongue twister, and if I was not upon the stage working well with the other cast members. His execution of the DVD titles story with Dupree is fun and silly and his dance-off with Burke is wonderful showing they can both move well and have funny bones.

Ceri Dupree as Widow Twankey is a joy, looking ever more glamorous and amazing on every appearance with spectacular headdresses that tower above her head. She looks anything but “mutton dressed as a ferret” as she calls it! She opens Act 2 dressed in a washing machine with bubbles blowing into the auditorium for “Bad Boys” and then appears as Lady Gaga for “Poker Face”.

Alexandra Burke is perfectly cast as Scherezade looking amazing and holds centre stage, from her first appearance on a lift from the orchestra pit, selling each song well. She is given plenty of stage time to sing a selection of songs with the best being her 2009 hits “Hallelujah” and “Bad Boys”. Her dance-off routine with Nickless is a show highlight as they both demonstrate their moves! She also adds to her charm as she collapses on what looks like an unrehearsed corpse.

Despite all the comic business and songs, the story still gets told without feeling an afterthought, so Aladdin (Matthew Croke ) persuades The Supreme Leader (Nicola Sanderson) to let him marry Jasmine (Rumi Sutton) after escaping from the blades of doom with the treasure. He gets to close Act 1 on a flying carpet over the audience on his way home after the cave of wonderment as Burke sings “Dreams come true” and Jasmin gets to defeat Abanazar when he turns into a spectacular giant Cobra in Act2. Two wonderful effects to add to the Spectacle. 

The show is framed by a wonderful portal with three-dimensional snakes and set in Chinatown in Mancunia with some colourful cloths and a puppet genie of the lamp with an accent like the Gallagher brothers! It works because the cast are integrated together well by Director Jonathan Kiley, the comedy feels fresh and fast-paced, and the music led by Burke is wonderful, backed by a five-piece band under Francis Goodhand.

It is traditional pantomime as it should be, full of energy, great fun, uplifting music and still telling a story that captures the imagination and dreams of young and old.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row L | Price of Ticket: £33
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