"Aladdin is a great show for all the family"

Panto season is well and truly open………oh yes it is and I had the pleasure of being invited to the Wolverhampton Grand for their production of Aladdin, written and directed by Will Brenton.

Upon taking our seats in the auditorium we are met with an impressive, sparkly curtain emblazoned with Aladdin’s name and this sets the scene.  The set includes a backdrop of projections which worked well to transport us onto the streets of Shangrifar.  I don’t think I need to tell you the story of Aladdin, as it’s pretty infamous with many Disney films and a musical stage version to its name.

Opening up, as most Panto’s do, with the villain, the role of Abanazar is played by Michael Greco who you may well know as Beppe Di Marco from Eastenders fame of the 1990’s.  Greco manages to instil enough fear into the children’s eyes, but also with a fun number of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ made his character slightly loveable at this point.

The highlight for me and the standout performance of the night goes to Zoe Birkett who plays the Spirit of the Ring.  Fresh from the West End and the Moulin Rouge, Birkett is every inch the accomplished performer with a voice to tear the roof off the place!  There were many musical numbers lead by Birkett, including ‘Domino’, ‘Don’t You Worry About a Thing’ and a small helping of ‘Defying Gravity’. If ever there was another contender to play Elphaba, then Birkett really needs to make her way to the Emerald City very soon.  Incredible!

Wolverhampton Panto favourites Tam Ryan, who plays Wishee Washee……this year and Ian Adams as Dame Dot Twankey delivered on every point with comedic routines, including a rather messy visit to the launderette involving soap suds and water…….I think you can guess how that ended up!  Ryan is a complete professional, throwing out hilarious one liners, involving the audience and carrying the show on his shoulders.  Adams provides us with some wonderful costumes throughout, my personal favourites being launderette themed offerings displaying the words ‘Hairy Non Bio’ and ‘Manish’.  The rapport between the two was very natural and made for an enjoyable Pantomime.

Aladdin (Ben Cajee) and Jasmine (Sofie Anne) provided the basis of the story and it’s their relationship that is at the forefront.  I did feel that the chemistry wasn’t quite there and some of the lines between them fell a little flat at points. We didn’t have time to become invested in their relationship evolving, it felt quite rushed.  Anne has an incredible singing voice and particularly shines during her rendition of ‘Confident’.

As with most Pantomime’s there are always plenty of local references, queue ‘The Wolverhampton Song’ written by Ian Billings and Jacques Offenbach. Reeling off pretty much every area of the city at lightning speed is not an easy task but done superbly by Wishee Washee (Tam Ryan), Dame Dot Twankey (Ian Adams) and The Notary (Ian Billings). There were a few nods to the city of Wolverhampton throughout the show, from the gold and black colour of Wishee Washee’s outfit, of course synonymous with the local Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, to mentions of the local Civic Centre. 

During the flying carpet scene, needless to say, I was a little distracted by the power in Birkett’s voice delivering ‘Defying Gravity’, however I felt this could have been more of a moment.  The lighting seemed quite dark to be able to see the full picture and it didn’t really have the ‘wow’ factor that it should.  It also felt a little rushed too.

An ensemble cast provided some great dance routines, choreographed by Racky Plews and the Genie played by Duane Gooden bought great energy to the stage in his portrayal of this character.

Overall, Aladdin is a great show for all the family with many funny moments and some incredible vocal performances.

Aladdin runs at the Wolverhampton Grand until the 7th January 2023.  Tickets available here: ALADDIN | Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Photo credit: Alex Styles

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