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‘There’s a worldwide shortage of sequins because of this musical’ – Disney’s Aladdin: opening night

Aladdin. Photo: Deen van Meer

As Aladdin opens in the West End, Matthew Hemley caught up with the cast and creative team to talk about bringing the Disney classic to the stage…

Jade Ewen (Jasmine)

How was opening night for you?
It was overwhelming and probably the highlight of my career. I have loved every second.

How was it performing in front of an audience of invited guests and industry figures?
It’s interesting as you don’t expect the VIP audience to be quite so vocal and enthusiastic, as they are in the industry and have seen all the tricks before. But it was the most incredible response – we had a standing ovation half way through Act I, and endless roars and cheers.

What is it you like about playing Jasmine?
I love her as I felt she was the first Disney princess who didn’t need a man to make her happy – she is sassy and independent, so when Aladdin wins her over it’s because of his heart.

What moment do you most look forward to in the show?
The moment of the show I look forward to is after the carpet as then I know I can relax a little – the hard part is done. Everyone wants to know how we do it – it’s Disney magic. The first time I saw it I was covered in goosebumps, it was an emotional moment.

Dean John-Wilson (Aladdin)

Had you seen the film before landing the part in the show?
Aladdin was the first Disney film I saw. He was a bit cheeky and I saw myself as a bit like him, growing up as someone from Middlesborough living on a council estate and what not. I saw a lot of myself in him and here I am playing this iconic role.

People have compared the show to panto. Do you think that is fair?
I think our piece has a lot of heart and truth and people who see the film can expect a lot of Disney songs but truth. It’s different to panto but there are elements of panto and that is part of the Disney feel – you have to have it as well. There is something for everybody.

Bob Crowley, designer

Bob Crowley
Bob Crowley

The show is so colourful and glitzy. What did you want to achieve in the design of it?
I wanted to keep the magic of the film alive and make it a joyful experience for everybody to see, as it’s just good fun. It’s so witty, and the music is so beautiful. I wanted to make a big romantic old fashioned kind of musical.

What was the most challenging part?
None of it is easy, you have to make it look easy. Trying to make bits come together and make it look seamless is the hardest thing in the world. These things take months and months of planning and dialogue with the director, Casey Nicholaw. Casey is such a brilliant choreographer and director, and we don’t get to see this American pizzazz here that often, that incredible energy. It’s in their DNA, in the water. We do other things, but that kind of song and dance thing is theirs. They own that.

What has changed for the London production?
Very, very little. Each time we do it we add a bit more spit and polish to things, a few more sequins, more sparkles. There is a worldwide shortage of sequins right now because of this show.

And there was a standing ovation for the Friend Like Me scene. How did that feel?
I’ve not seen it before, it’s extraordinary. It’s spontaneous – people have seen something they’ve not seen before I think and they want to get up and give it a round.

Casey Nicholaw, director and choreography

Casey Nicholaw, winner of the Best Theatre Choreographer Award for The Book Of Mormon
Casey Nicholaw, winner of the Best Theatre Choreographer Award for The Book Of Mormon

Do opening nights get any easier?
They do. When you are creating something from scratch and have no idea how it will go down, it’s hard. But at least we knew this worked. Whether it’s everyone’s cup of tea is up to critics and everyone else. I love it, and we all love it and audience seemed to love it.

Designer Bob Crowley says the UK doesn’t do these big song and dance shows like the US. Do you think that is true?
I think that is true. This show is unapologetic in its over the top nature of costumes and glitter, we don’t apologise. The Genie even says it’s got more glitz and glamour than the whole world. It lets audiences know what they will see for the night. It’s the kitchen sink thrown in.

The Genie steals the show, but the role of Aladdin is integral to the production…
It’s a misleading role. People think he’s just the straight man and Dean John-Wilson is doing a good job. It takes so much energy to do that part. Everyone thinks the Genie has so much energy but Aladdin has to have just as much if not more – he’s on stage the whole time and has to drive the show and keep it going. Every Aladdin says: ‘I didn’t know it would be this hard’.

What did you see in Dean?
He’s gorgeous to look at and I liked his goofiness, he has a little of that in him, which works really well. He was able to bring his own take to the role.

You’re directing Dreamgirls in London. Are you excited?
I cannot wait to do that here, we have a great cast.

Chad Beguelin, book

There are a few British references in the show. What did you have to change from the US production?
We were wondering how it would play here, so we made a few changes to the script as we were worried about American references. The funny thing is we over corrected. At the first read through, the cast said ‘No let’s go back to the the US jokes, we don’t need your fish and chip jokes’. It was great as they were a guide as to what would play here and what would need adjusting.

How much of the film did you refer to for the script?
The first draft was really close to the film, but when composer Alan Menken suggested we add all the cut songs from the movie into the stage show, that changed everything, as now Aladdin has three friends instead of a monkey – and he has a song to his mother. We changed a lot around.

Trevor Dion Nicholas, Genie

Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie in Aladdin. Photo: Deen van Meer
Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie in Aladdin. Photo: Deen van Meer

How did opening night feel for you?
Incredible, it’s the best feeling in the world – I never felt anything like it before. It’s awesome playing the Genie. I get to take so much of myself and fuse it with the character – I take 10 year old Trevor’s dreams and put them on stage and play with the audience. It’s the most enjoyment I have ever had. It’s too much fun to be daunting or fearful or exhausting, it’s just a blast all the way through.

How much playing is there each night?
I have the ability to play the most out of all the characters. Depending on the mood of the audience, I can feel it out and try different things out. You guys were amazing tonight, one of the best houses we have had. The end of Friend Like Me, that reaction was the most incredible feeling on the planet. We get a good reaction all the time, but we don’t always get a standing ovation and so that was really special.

How have the London audiences been generally?
They have been fantastic. I was nervous at first coming over as I didn’t know how they would react, but they have been very reactive and responsive, we have been having a great time together.

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