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Review: We Escape to a Whole New World With Disney's Aladdin the Musical at Sunderland Empire

Disney's Aladdin the Musical at Sunderland Empire All images: Deen Van Meer
What's on
February 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

We head to Sunderland Empire with three wishes - to see magic, have fun and enjoy a dazzling Disney production

Starring Sunderland's own Adam Strong as Jafar, we were so excited to be part of the audience for the first ever UK and Ireland tour of Disney's Aladdin The Musical.

It’s a timeless story we know we love, but this extravagant production filled with magic, comedy and thousands of Swarovski crystals proves how perfect Disney animations are for stage, with a few tweaks here and there. This spectacle has already been seen by more than 14 million people worldwide, so we knew we were in for a treat. Having already spoken to the Sunderland star bringing Jafar to life, and having been drinking my coffee from a Disney Aladdin mug each day for almost a year, I join the buzzy atmosphere of the Empire with high expectations – and my partner and I aren’t disappointed. 

We take our seats in a very busy Empire theatre and what follows is a sensational show that only Disney could pull off. Adapted from Disney’s 1992 animated film and centuries-old folktales including One Thousand and One Nights, this smash-hit musical features the timeless songs from the film, as well as new music which proved to be an exciting addition. Cartwheels, sword fights and faultless choreography but not a single member of the cast seems to be breaking a sweat? We’re either blinded by the crystals or they’re borderline athletes. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing production with seamless costume changes and incredible magic that simply can’t be explained unless you’re stage left. 

The world we find ourselves immersed in is made up of dazzling costumes and mind-blowing stage sets. Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie is a laugh a minute and definitely an audience favourite, receiving eager applause each time he takes to the stage and extended applause when he performs that iconic Friend Like Me scene with full gusto, serious swagger and a sprinkle of pop-culture references for good measure. It’s a well-known fact that no one can beat Robin Williams' Genie (our apologies go to Will Smith) but Yeukayi comes a close second.

But we’re rooting for (rather than booing) Adam Strong in his role of Jafar – who’s given a bit more airtime than in the animation, much to our delight. His back-and-forth banter with his side-kick Iago (who is human, with a few parrot puns for a nice nod to the film) adds an element of fun to Jafar’s villainous ways. He even gets his own solo and plenty of moments to show off his perfectly evil laugh. But with each scene bursting with talent, it’s difficult to pick our favourite musical moment. My partner’s is High Adventure. How Aladdin’s three pals managed to hold every note while fighting a whole bunch of guards with swords is definitely impressive. I was somewhat apprehensive about the musical lacking Abu but Aladdin’s friends Babkak, Omar and Kassim meant a new element of teamwork was at play and their camaraderie was so much fun to watch. I suggest a special shout out goes to the performance of A Whole New World. Desmonda Cathabel is pitch perfect, even whilst she’s spun around in the air on a flying carpet…

Yes, a *real* flying carpet (we saw it fly, and we believe it’s magic, no further questions). What more could you want from a Disney production? It was certainly worth the wait. Get the family together and don’t miss this star-spangled sensation whilst it’s in Sunderland.

Disney’s Aladdin The Musical plays at Sunderland Empire until Sunday 10th March 2024.

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