December 2006

Aladdin – The Magical Family Musical
A Ross Petty Production

Directed by Ted Dykstra • Choreography by Tracey Flye • Written by David Finley
Musical Director, Rick Fox

December 6 – 24, 2006Elgin TheatreToronto
A Joyous and Bombastic Romp
by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
Ross Petty and his elite team of theatre pros have (once again) created a tasty soufflé of a stage production that is a total delight — no matter what your age group. Petty and company have been touring Canada with this production — one of several 'fractured fairy tales' they have brought us in recent years. Aladdin – The Magical Family Musical is making its second Toronto appearance at the sumptuously restored ElginTheatre.

Cleverly, the convoluted plot is interspersed with contemporary musical material, widening the show’s appeal. Aladdin opens with the lovely Jennifer Dale in the first of her dual roles as a librarian (the librarians never looked so good when I was a kid!). The opening number, “World of Pure Imagination” (sung by Dale) was lovingly lifted from the Anthony Newley/ Leslie Bricusse score, written for the first film version of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, which starred Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson. Other musical contributions include material from such far-flung artists as Alberta Hunter, Steppenwolf (a full throttle version “Magic Carpet Ride” culminating in a black light skateboard sequence), Irivng Berlin, Brian McNight and (my personal favourite), a rousing dance number performed by the ensemble to the music of James Brown’s immortal funk anthem, “Get Up Offa That Thang”.

Tracey Flye’s brilliant choreography is in itself a star of Aladdin. The limber and energetic dance ensemble, as well as the principals, deliver excellence across the board, with megatons of enthusiasm and exactitude. The skilled orchestra (under the admirable direction of keyboardist Rick Fox) provided the wonderful ‘live’ music necessary, and moved smoothly as a well-tuned machine through a variety of musical genres. Talented drummer Kevan Mackenzie enhanced each number, never missing a beat or a nuance.
Ross Petty & Jamie McKnight
The twist-o-flex plot encourages audience participation in the form of 'booing' and 'cheering' various characters. Something that The Brothers Grimm never imagined, I’m sure. Ross Petty’s version of the Aladdin character has him being transformed into a wanna-be skater boy — the only son of the lusty and eccentric Widow Bender — who is apparently from Down East somewhere. Memorably played by yeoman actor Derek McGrath, he was eminently convincing dancing around in drag and belting out Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” — a moment not to be missed. Talented mastermind Ross Petty does double-duty as a nearly out-of-work actor and the evil (but eminently loveable) Abanazeer, who propels the plot (such as it is!). Jennifer Dale is luminous and lovely in her primary role as Sheherazade. She has a delicate, yet commanding stage presence that makes it nearly impossible to take your eyes off of her.

Young Rhoslynne Bugay as the Princess is a confection — complete with angelic voice and honest delivery. Actors Jonathan Ellul and Mark Allen (as Weenie and Beans, respectively — dimwitted employees of the Widow Bender) are hilarious and loveable in their buffoonery, and Kyle Dadd as The Sultan (who seemed to be channeling Gilligan’s Island resident Thurston G. Howell III) also delivered high comedy with considerable aplomb.

I couldn’t complete a review of Aladdin – The Magical Family Musical without mentioning the magnificent directing job done by multiple-threat, multiple DORA-Award-winning actor/director/producer Ted Dykstra. Ted is one of the founding members of the Soulpepper Theatre, and is one of our most talented and versatile members of the theatrical community. His direction of Aladdin as well as his many awards and hit shows leave no doubt that he is a prodigiously talented and innovative director.

The appearance of pro-wrestler Bret “Hitman” Hart in the role of the legendary Genie of the Lamp, at first seemed to be a decidedly odd casting choice, however… whatever was lacking in his performance or agility (the man moves like a ham-hock on legs), was more than made up for by the tremendous ovation from the youthful members of the audience as soon as he stepped onstage. The kids just couldn’t get enough of him — and that’s good enough for me! Do something meaningful for your kids during this holiday season, and introduce them to the magical world of ‘live performance’ with a trip to see Aladdin.

Jamie McKnight, Derek McGrath, Ross Petty, Jennifer Dale & Bret “Hitman” Hart
p.s. The book for Aladdin was cleverly crafted by the award-winning, David Finley. Mr. Finley was the recipient of the 2005 Dora Maver Moore Award for "Outstanding New Musical". The talented David Finley is also the author of the hilarious 2005 musical, Snow White & The Group of Seven. Without Mr. Finley's book, Aladdin would have been left with little more than Ross Petty's questionable wig.

The dismissive and truncated mini-bio of David Finley that appeared in the programme was an insult to all writers, as it implied an irrelevent and negilgable contribution.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
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