One From The Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
for The Reviews Hub
Simon Aylin's snappy Aladdin begins with a prologue set in the Stygian super-villain's lair – the dastardly Abanazar appearing on his throne in a puff of smoke, supported by a team of black-clad avian minions from the excellent juvenile chorus.
After that it's a more or less faithful romp through the familiar plot, with many pantomime traditions honoured: the mangle gag, and Wishee shrunk in the wash. And because every panto needs an animal, an adorable elephant for Fake Your Way To The Top. More laughs, more mess, and more awful puns, would not have come amiss, with maybe a little less music.
A powerful soundtrack from MD Tom Curran and his three-piece band, with a gloriously varied musical mix. Olly Murs, The Addams Family, Jekyll and Hyde, Dreamgirls (twice), Hairspray, Memphis and Lady Gaga among the contributors. A lovely Mambo, The Macarena for the Ghost Routine, the ubiquitous Uptown Funk – featuring this year at Hammersmith and Hackney amongst dozens of others – and a well-received revival of that Gang Show staple If I Were Not Upon The Stage; shame that four performers had to cope with seven choruses, though.
Fizzing dance routines (Damian Czarnecki) from the principals and the ensemble – students at Laine Theatre Arts – Build Me Up Buttercup, for instance, or the Born This Way pre-nuptial entertainment.
And great performances from Millie O'Connell as the lithe, effervescent Slave of the Ring, and Shaun Chambers as a nerdy, beardy Abanazar. The widowed washerwoman is given a saucy persona by Tim McArthur, with his full frocks and neatly buttoned boots. Carried on horizontal at his first entrance, which makes a change. David Tarkenter gives a fine actor-laddie Emperor, and Neal Wright, back by popular demand, is a lovely cuddly Genie of the Lamp. No principal boy here, but a somewhat laddish Aladdin (Liam Ross-Mills, channelling Essex boy Jamie Oliver), not perhaps sufficiently distinct from his brother Wishee Washee, enthusiastically played by Samuel Parker. His princess is a striking Gabriela Gregorian.
The sets look a little old-fashioned, but there is an impressive magical carpet, and a beautifully animated digital front cloth.
A loud, lively panto, which delighted the Brentwood Beavers and the rest of the packed audience when we saw it, and provided a few embarrassing moments for Dean and Steve, mercilessly targeted by Twankey and Wishee.