Posts Tagged ‘disney


Disney’s Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin

Disney Theatrical Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

February 24 – June 3 2018

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Princess Jasmine & Aladdin. Image by Deen Van Meer.

Aladdin is the multi-Tony Award winning, multi-faceted jewel in Disney’s crown, a decadent feast for the senses – flawless – rich in colour, romance, action, ambition, greed, honour, mischief, magic, glitz and glamour, and losing nothing of its original heartwarming essence. Booked yet?

Based on the 1992 animated film, and even more spectacular on stage, Aladdin’s intricate popup storybook sets are immediately transportive. The skyline alone is an Instagram Influencer’s dream! (Are the presets available for purchase?). Masterfully designed by Bob Crowley and superbly lit by Natasha Katz, with more than 300 lavish costumes on display, glistening with thousands of Swarovski crystals (Gregg Barnes), and gifted with swirling, seamless choreography making a showstopper of every musical number (Casey Nicholaw), AND with its extraordinary talent and automation, this sensational production is the must-see musical theatre event of the year.

Book here.

Princess Jasmine & Aladdin. Image by Deen Van Meer.

We were just discussing the need (or not) for overtures the other week, and this production, directed by Casey Nicholaw with musical direction by Geoffrey Castles, opens both acts with one, celebrating the many moods of the Middle Eastern influenced music composed by Alan Menken and from the first strains, freeing us from the throes of daily life and city traffic for a couple of magical hours. Additional songs have been added back into the stage production after being cut from the film, with lyrics by Disney dream team Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (with book & lyrics by Chad Beguelin). It’s got to be one of the catchiest, most uplifting scores of contemporary musical theatre. One of the reintroduced songs, the poignant Proud of Your Boy, showcases the acting chops and golden voice of Ainsley Melham, who brings the title role to life. This guy is set for superstardom. 

Aladdin (Ainsley Melham). Image by Deen Van Meer.

With effervescent energy, a mischievous grin and Disney leading man chiselled good looks, Melham is one of several WAAPA grads in the company, and a perfect match for this Princess Jasmine, Hiba Elchikhe. Hailing from the UK and Mountview trained, Elchikhe is divine and definitely the strong-vulnerable female role model you’d hoped your own little Princess Jasmine would get to see at stage door after the show for a #twinning pic. 

It was a JOY to see so many excited kids at opening night, lighting up the foyer with their bright eyes and infectious smiles. I only wish our major productions could be made more affordable, allowing even more families to enjoy a night out at the theatre together. Honestly, especially in this case, it can be the life-affirming, life-changing stuff of a happier childhood and a more harmonious household!


Adam Murphy’s Jafar is suitably imposing and delightfully wicked whilst remaining so suave when having to play the perfect gentleman and advisor to the Sultan (George Henare, charming and pleasingly, far more sensitive and intelligent than the bumbling / loveable old fool in the film). Jafar’s sidekick on stage, the parrot of the film, is henchman Iago, played with perfect comic timing and terrific physicality by Aljin Abella. Together these two give Aladdin’s three friends a run for their money in terms of laugh time.

Kassim (Adam-Jon Firorentino – please stay in the country now), Omar (Robert Tripolino) and Babkak (Troy Sussman) replace Abu, Aladdin’s beloved on-screen mate, a monkey, and they share some wonderfully funny moments, as well as getting the chance to shine as individual performers.

Genie (Gareth Jacobs). Image by Jeff Busby.

But it’s the Genie, Melbourne’s Gareth Jacobs who steals the show by a nose, having stepped into the big curly-toed satin shoes of Michael James Scott late last year. Jacobs is relaxed and makes the perfect host; he has us in the palm of his hand from the moment he first appears to welcome us, and later, magically, of course, in the Cave of Wonders. This dazzling set design is up there with the multiple cascading chandeliers of My Fair Lady (in fact, not since My Fair Lady has a musical production looked so good in the Lyric), and the Genie’s famous number here, Friend Like Me, literally stops the show, prompting an enthusiastic standing ovation and real hopes for a reprise. There isn’t one, because the show must go on! But this is so much better than the Super Bowl halftime show, and much more thrilling than the film, with literally something for everyone (the tap sequence is fantastic!). Genie even gives a nod to some other Disney smash hits, sans the R-Rated treatment we’ve enjoyed since 2014 at Oscar’s Boy&Girl

Aladdin. Cave of Wonders. Image by Deen Van Meer.

In this superbly talented ensemble we don’t expect to see any stand outs, and yet Brisbane’s Kimberley Hodgson is just glorious in every moment. I’d love to return to see her play Princess Jasmine. (Jasmine’s second understudy is Heather Manly, whom we recognise from Showwork’s Heathers. And though there are times when it is disappointing to miss out on a star performer, with understudies of this calibre there’s no need to give a second thought as to whether or not you’ll enjoy the show if someone is off for the night! This is a truly sensational cast, the strongest sounding ensemble we’ve heard in this space in a long time, absolutely world class).

Aladdin. Magic Lamp. Image by Deen Van Meer.

Aladdin is a no-brainer, the ideal date night, or an extravagant and entertaining evening with friends or family. If your household makes it to just one mega musical each year, this year make it this one.

Aladdin is beyond splendid. It’s bold, it’s beautifully staged and performed, showcasing some of the country’s most exciting musical theatre talent, and it guarantees the shared experience of a lifetime. Most impressive of all (and let’s face it, it’s largely due to this stellar cast), Disney’s dazzling production puts the heart and soul back into blockbuster musical theatre storytelling… Well, it was time. 


The Lion King


The Lion King


QPAC Lyric Theatre

September 21 2014 – January 25 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Simba_Nick Afoa (Photo by Deen Van Meer)


The Lion King has been seen by over 75 million people AND has surpassed The Phantom of the Opera to become the highest grossing stage production OF ALL TIME. (December 12 marked my birthday AND the Australian company’s 400th performance!). And it really is THAT GOOD! If you haven’t booked your tickets for the end of the Brisbane season yet (The Lion King closes in Brisbane on January 25), stop reading right now and book seats for the whole family. Being a shamelessly special-event-lovin’, Tapis Rouge, VIP, Producers’ Seat kinda gal’ I recommend QPAC’s Producer Package, which includes a best-seat-in-the-house ticket, a souvenir program and complimentary drink for $195 ($175 for Wednesday matinees). But you know what? Beggers can’t be choosers and you’d better just take what you can get at this stage!


The vibe at a QPAC opening night is always fantastic, and having made mandalas at GOMA and enjoyed Circa’s matinee (and Max Brenner for dinner – oops…we love the White Choc Chai!), Poppy and I skipped into the foyer, very excited to finally be seeing for ourselves, Disney’s The Lion King.


In the foyer we saw the families of the kids who star in the show, and the children whose performances we’d miss, since we would be seeing Jayden Siemon as Young Simba and Jessica Jung-Yoon Kim as Young Nala. These two are excellent performers with delightful chemistry on stage, and it’s clear that Siemon already has the elusive star quality and genuine confidence to makes him stand out from the crowd, and which makes him a stand out in this production. Watch out for this little fella! He’s destined for big things!


We’ve seen the (1994) animated film a million times – it’s a family favourite – and Sam has shared many variations of the lines with Poppy (“It’s called Caboolture, Poppy. Never go there.”), so we knew what to expect. What’s so impressive about this production though, is that it surpasses expectations.


Josslynn Hlenti as Nala (Photo by Deen Van Meer)


In 1999 Director, Julie Taymor, who conceptualised the show, spoke in depth with Richard Schechner.


If The Lion King hadn’t been a movie, there would be nothing like this. You’ve got children who know it. It’s like the Mahabharata for our culture. These kids have it memorized. And they love it, and they say, “Mommy”–I get these stories all the time–they say, “Don’t worry, Mommy. Simba’s going to be okay.”


With her spectacular original design, Julie Taymor discovered a way into the story that makes us appreciate the making of the magic we experience. It’s a rare treat to see a magician’s tricks revealed and it’s a joy to see the movement and facial expressions of each puppeteer, which are as important as the puppets they manipulate. I watch both the puppet and the puppet master, and this “double event” is what makes it so exciting to see characters like Timon (Jamie McGregor), Pumbaa (Russell Dykstra) and Zazu (Cameron Goodall) literally brought to life on stage. McGregor, Dykstra & Goodall are absolutely brilliant in their portrayals of some of the most colourful, comical characters in the show. These three could easily transfer to Broadway but we’ll keep them here thanks, if they’re willing to stay; they are the scene-stealers, every one, in the most entertaining and adorable way possible.


Buyi Zama_Rafiki (Photo by Deen Van Meer)


But it’s hard not to go past this Rafiki, and it’s not Buyi Zama, whom we’d expected to see, but her understudy, Gabisile Manana. I always have mixed feelings about seeing the understudy and in this case, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not sure I would have been any more impressed by Zama’s performance. I hope this role leads to the next step in Manana’s career because she’s an incredible comical performer, with a superb voice and striking stage presence, as well as the sensitivity to frame beautifully all of the lessons in The Lion King. He Lives in You is a highlight, largely too due to the strength of this ensemble. These are glorious performers to watch on stage.


It’s baffling and funky and somehow beautiful to see the Hyenas break it down before the end of the first act; it’s enough to give even the NYC firefighters a run for their money. I expect to see the (hyenas’) calendar at the merch desk after the show but alas, there’s nothing of the sort. (Poppy bought the kids beaded bracelets and gave one to a friend who probs won’t get to see the show. Love her heart).


Note to Disney Publicity: do the calendar.




Circle of Life is one of the most magnificent opening numbers I’ve ever experienced, even in its scaled-down touring size, with its Serengeti animals parading through the audience, its stirring music by Lebo M and Elton John (The Lion King showcases some of Elton John’s best ever compositions), and its healing, inspiring drum beat. This music moves me to tears even without any visuals. If ever Poppy notices she says, “Are you alright, Mum? I know. It’s okay.” and I’m never quite sure if she knows better than I what it is I’m feeling and why.


Rob Collins as Mufasa and Josh Quong Tart as Scar (Photo by Deen Van Meer)


The ideograph for The Lion King was the circle. The circle of life. This symbol is the actual, most simple way of talking about The Lion King. It’s the biggest song. It’s obvious. So before Richard Hudson was hired [as set designer], I already was thinking about wheels and circles. And how whatever Pride Rock was I would never do the jutting Pride Rock from the movie. I knew it had to be abstract. You had the sun, then you had the first puppet I conceived, the Gazelle Wheel. The Gazelle Wheel represents the entire concept. You know what I’m talking about? The wheels with the gazelles that leap? With one person moving across the stage you get eight or nine leaping gazelles. Which is a miniature, too. So you get the long-shot and the close-up. I brought the miniature to Michael Eisner [of Disney] and I said, okay, in traditional puppet theatre, there is a black-masking or something that hides the wheels, and you see these little gazelles going like that. The puppeteer is hidden. But let’s just get rid of the masking. Because when you get rid of the masking, then even though the mechanics are apparent, the whole effect is more magical. And this is where theatre has a power over film and television. This is absolutely where its magic works. It’s not because it’s an illusion and we don’t know how it’s done. It’s because we know exactly how it’s done.

Julie Taymor: From Jaques Lecoq to The Lion King


Josh Quong Tart is superb as Scar. Having to step into any role voiced originally by Jeremy Irons is no mean feat but this performance is a masterclass in making one’s character one’s own. Interesting casting is another NIDA grad, Rob Collins, as Mufasa. He’s the gentlest Mufasa you might imagine, and it works, bringing a softer-stronger fatherly love to the story.




The production is very interesting when you think about race in America. For white people, The Lion King has nothing to do with race. It’s beyond race. It transcends race. For black people, it’s the opposite. It’s all about race.

SCHECHNER: How’s that?

TAYMOR: First of all, when you see the movie of The Lion King, unless you’re an adult you have no idea that the voice of Mufasa [James Earl Jones] is an African American. In my production you see the actors in flesh and blood. Technically, the entire chorus is nonwhite–some of them look white, but they are of mixed race. You have a nonwhite cast onstage for the most part. And for a black child–black papers have written about this–the response from the black audience has been rewarding and moving. In American mainstream theatre, a black king is nowhere to be found.


TAYMOR: Never! To have Mufasa played by a black actor. In the movie, Matthew Broderick was Simba’s voice. Okay, so we had a black father and a white son. Why didn’t they cast a black actor to do the voice of Simba? I didn’t intentionally have two light-skinned people playing those parts; they were the best actors for the roles. Our other Simba who’s playing it now is very black. The black audience sees race onstage. Now I know my work isn’t African, but Lebo’s music [Lebo M] is African.

The Lion King isn’t about racism the way, say, Ragtime or so many other plays with black performers are. In this regard, The Lion King is totally refreshing–a kind of glimpse of the future. My friend Reg E. Kathay said, “This is like the next century.” But no one in the white press ever talks about the race issue in The Lion King. I think one article in L.A. brought that up.

Julie Taymor: From Jaques Lecoq to The Lion King


Don’t skimp and skip taking the kids to experience The Lion King; you’ll never forgive yourself (and you’ll never hear the end of it!). This is the best and brightest of the fun and meaningful family musicals. Get online and get those tix in time to put an IOU in the Christmas stockings tonight!




On Being Mr and Mrs Banks

If you’ve seen Disney & Cam Mack’s Australian production of Mary Poppins, you’ll know there is as much in the show for grown ups as there is for children. It’s an impressive production and if you’re a parent, you’ll get so much from it on so many different levels. We asked Simon Burke and Pippa Grandison about being Mr and Mrs Banks.

Being Mrs Banks

Pippa Grandison

This is the second time you’ve stepped in to take over a role on an Australian stage. In comparison to going green for 6 months of Wicked, what has it been like to become Mrs Banks?

Well, it’s certainly been easier than being painted green! They really are such different roles, so comparison is trcky. I will say that being Mrs Banks has been a very enjoyable journey. Now being a mother on stage as well as in real life has made the transition a natural one.

What is it about being Mrs Banks that you relate to or try to connect with?

Winifred is really the heart of the piece and has so much love for her family. Particularly her husband, throughout his struggle to connect and I love the challenge of maintaining that unconditional caring nature she possesses.

Do you think you will bring a percentage of the Underbelly crowd to the theatre? There’s a demographic who know you now as a nightclub singer! How much of Mary Poppins – a children’s classic – is for the grown ups? 

Well I’m not sure about that! They’ll get a very contrasting lady in Mrs Banks…There is, however, a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment for all ages in Mary Poppins. Most people can relate to a dysfunctional family in need of help.

You have a new Mr Banks in Simon Burke. How has it been to work with Simon after becoming accustomed to Philip Quast’s take on the role?

There is always an adjustment period, particularly when the relationship is such an important one, but it’s been great to find new things together.

How do you connect with the children in the show?

It’s wonderful working with them. All so talented and lovely people. I really feel that being a mum has helped me with that connection too.

How has the experience of having your own child and becoming a mother to Charlie impacted on your approach to your work? As a performer, what is easier, more challenging and more important to you now than it was before? Is there anything that has paled into insignificance?

I’m more confident now for some reason. I still get nervous but my approach no longer has that judgment factor (of myself I mean) so I go to places I may not have before. Life experience is a wonderful thing. Nothing is more important to me than my family and this takes the pressure off.

Ironically, in order to be involved in this production, you required a nanny for Charlie. Did you have any special requirements, as Jane and Michael do?

Indeed. practically perfect is a must. At the moment, her dad is working in Melbourne and her aunty is nannying for us. Janet was there when Charlie was born, so obviously I trust her completely.

What does opening night in a new city mean for you?

It’s very exciting. Brisbane has been particularly enjoyable as it’s really my first opening ad Mrs Banks.

What’s coming up next for you?

I can’t say as yet but I’ll stay with Mary Poppins for a little while yet.

What do you want to see happen in theatre and musical theatre in this country over the next twelve months?

That’s a very specific time frame! Continued support for our local talent, in all departments, and more people interested in coming to the theatre as well as watching the tele!



Being Mr Banks











Simon Burke

Mary Poppins is the first Disney production to come to Brisbane. Is it your first Disney gig? And is this a significant leg of the tour, to return to the city so near the author’s birthplace in Maryborough? 

It’s great to be back in Brisbane after such a long time (my last big show here was CHICAGO first time around back in 2000!) and especially to be part of this wonderful Cameron Mackintosh/Disney hybrid production. I’m sure the spirit of PJ Travers is blowing its way to QPAC when the wind is right…

You’re playing Mr Banks, an arrogant British banker who is a little out of touch with his wife and children until Mary Poppins comes to stay. What was it about this character that appealed to you? What does his journey look like?

George has a fantastically interesting journey and it’s that journey that most appeals to me in the role. From a man who begins the show describing his childhood as “there was no time for hugs and kisses and all that soppy nonsense”, a man who has no time for his wife or kids, a man for whom position and advancement is all that matters, to a man who embraces family life and realises that the precious years he has with his kids before they grow up are the most important thing in his life.

Did you see Philip Quast in the role before you stepped into it? How did you work on developing a character that is your own? 

I worked very closely with the British creatives on my interpretation of George – a very enjoyable and rewarding experience

How has it been to work with Pippa Grandison as Mrs Banks? What have you brought to the show and to each other, in terms of playing the married couple in what must still be perceived as a rather traditional nuclear family?

Pippa and I have a mutual best friend so we’ve known each other for a long time but never worked this closely together before. She brings a real warmth to Winifred and you can certainly believe that she used to be an actress!

What can we learn from this family and their collective journey?

Love is all.

Where does your own journey take you next, with such an expansive career and now a debut solo album and a solo show of the same name (Something About Always), under your belt?

Well – immediately it takes me to Perth with MARY POPPINS after Brisbane – and after that possibly back to London for a while. Having been there for the past 4 years and had such a great time it really seems that living and working in both cities (Sydney and London) would be the ideal.

What would you like to see happen in Australian musical theatre this year?

Musical Theatre seems to be having a boom in Australia at the moment so of course I’d love to see that continue – we have so many fantastically talented performers in this country and I’d love to see them all in work!