Review by Justin Clarke
Music by A.J Holmes, Lyrics by Kaley McMahon, Book by Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale, Directed by Jarrod Riesinger.
Since their inception of A Very Potter Musical, StarKid Productions have developed something of an online cult following. Most of their productions have been filmed and placed on Youtube in all their parodic glory. One such musical which has garnered this following is their musical parody of Dis-sorry-The Magic Kingdom’s Aladdin.
With inspiration from Wicked the musical, Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier tells the story we all know from the perspective of the villain, Ja’far (Tim Love). Ja’far has been transformed from power hungry sorcerer to a misunderstood logic-driven Royal Vizier who is on a quest to save his city from its penis-inverted Sultan (Alex Cuff), the invading tiger-loving Prince Achmed (Jonathon Frino), and the most predatorial of street rats, Aladdin (Blake Kovac).
StarKid’s book, written by Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale, is rich in references to multiple Magic Kingdom owned properties and cultural winks and nods. Director Jarrod Riesinger has harnessed his company’s knack at improvising to add their own flair to the book’s jokes – something which is a fresh take for those who have watched the Youtube recording on repeat.
The lyrics of the musical and the book are brilliantly crafted fodder for multiple interpretations of jokes which require performers with spot on comic-timing, something that Reisinger looked for when casting this show way back in 2020.
It should be noted the sheer willpower a company requires to perservere through two shutdowns (one, a week out from going up) and finally stage a show roughly two years after it was initially cast. For this, the company should be applauded.
As the Royal Vizier himself, Tim Love holds his own as a logically self-proclaimed scientist. More connection from Love and performers he was acting across could have been made through eye contact, the lack of which sometimes resulted in a loss of emotional resonance. Despite this, Love’s powerful voice fills the space of the theatre in Ja’far’s songs, and he proves himself to be a leading man in this demanding role.
Hayley Bannerman as the Princess and Blake Kovac as Aladdin work well opposite each other and bring the laughs through some of the show’s more uncomfortable moments. StarKid’s show was written back in 2013 and the world could probably do without creating humour from predatorial characters, even in a parody. However, Kovac revels in the satirical nature of Aladdin, making up for the script’s uneasy nature. Working alongside Bannerman, the pair brings well-sung harmonies into their numbers. Despite punch lines being lost from a lack of projection, Bannerman plays on her character’s naivety keenly.
A standout of the production, Jonathon Frino as Prince Achmed (you know, the throwaway side character whose pants the tiger rips at the beginning of Aladdin) brings the show’s most hilarious numbers. With a gleefully silly voice and ridiculous moustache, Frino elevates the show to the level which it was aspiring – farce and musical parody with a smattering of improvisation.
Rising Arts Production’s Twisted was two years in the making and if the performers keep leaning into the comedic ridiculousness of this production, the show’s hiatus will have been worth it.
As always in shows with this nature, playing in the ensemble seems to bring the most fun, and the cast prove this to be true. Special mention should go out to Emily Hespe, Morgan Dootson, Louie Cuff and Elizabeth Ellis for the utter commitment they brought to the multitude of characters they played. In the show’s moment where energy or timing was lost, these performers could be noticed keeping the show’s farcical nature afloat.
Unfortunately, sound and projection from the cast let down a lot of the show’s more impactful moments. Mic popping was an issue throughout and the show’s levels were either too softly used or too resonant in the theatre’s speakers. This lost the impact of the well-harnessed band and Music Director, Er-Chih Li’s work put into the show’s more powerful numbers.
The show’s most impactful instances were when the entire cast were utilised on stage, such as the opening number of Act Two. At times though, pacing felt off and required redirection to bring the energy and jokes back on track. The show was at its best when the performers played to the zany and farcical nature that the script required.
It’s a pleasure to see independent productions powering through the ongoing turmoil in the Covid-led world and bring a bit of a joy in a theatrical space. Rising Arts Production’s Twisted was two years in the making and if the performers keep leaning into the comedic ridiculousness of this production, the show’s hiatus will have been worth it.
Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier plays at the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston until Saturday 29th January 2022. Tickets and information can be booked here.
Music A.J Holmes
Lyrics Kaley McMahon
Book Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale
Director/Producer Jarrod Riesinger
Music Director Er-Chih Li
Choreographer Dane Sanderson
Stage Manager Sharnae Sanderson
Ja’far Tim Love
Princess Hayley Bannerman
Aladdin Blake Kovac
Sherrezade Samantha Atkinson
Prince Achmed Jonathon Frino
Vizier/Gaston/Others Ben Spencer
Captain/Others Sam Sweeting
Djinn/Gazeem/Others Dylan Horvat
Sultan/Others Alex Cuff
Ensemble Damon Bishop, Louie Cuff, Morgan Dootson, Elizabeth Ellis, Billee-Paige Harris, Emily Hespe, Darcy Noack, Jess Oehm and Jessie-Rose Sleiman