Interview with Aladdin's leading cast members

With Disney's Aladdin beginning previews at the Prince Edward Theatre in London's West End this week, we stopped by the final rehearsals for the show to talk to the three leading cast members, Dean John-Wilson who plays 'Aladdin', Jade Ewen who plays 'Princess Jasmine' and American actor Trevor Dion Nicholas who will reprise the role of 'The Genie' in the West End.

DOH: Dom O'Hanlon
DJW: Dean John Wilson
JE: Jade Ewen
TDN: Trevor Dion Nicholas

JE: Just happy memories! I had a Disney movie every year for Christmas, my mum would get one for me and my sister, and Aladdin was the favourite. I think we've all kind of felt similarly that it was the first time we had seen a Disney Prince or Princess that looked similar to us. It really sticks out as one of those moments where you just think “I could be a Disney Princess!” Just generally very happy.

TD: I used to love collecting the big block VHS tapes and I had the Aladdin one, and for me as a little boy – we all loved The Little Mermaid of course, we all did – but Aladdin for a little boy was this cool action adventure story, and so I was really able to attach to it and think it's so cool and so much fun. I thought the Genie was hilarious, I thought Jafar was awesome. I had the cassette of the music as well – when you folded it out, back in the day, you had the lyrics all in there and that's how I knew the songs. I remember I used to go into my parents room and I'd use the cassette player and spend all day learning and singing through the entire movie soundtrack – it was awesome.

DJW: Aladdin was kinda the first character that looked like me, always being mischievous and that was me growing up, so I saw myself as being a bit of an Aladdin. It was definitely a favourite of mine.

DOH: How does it then feel to be playing characters with whom so many people have such a strong emotional attachment?

DJW: It's just amazing to be able to bring those animated characters to life and be able to live and breath those characters and find truth in them. They have real heart.

JE: I feel it makes you feel like a big kid again – I find it so exciting. Every day I come in just genuinely excited for rehearsals.

TD: Absolutely!

JE: Upstairs they're running costume changes now – when you see it on such a big scale, and it's real, all the crystals, all the details, it's just breathtaking. You forget we're all adults – and we're sitting there screaming!

TD: You get the joy of getting to find pieces of that character that you grew up with in yourself, and yourself in that character at the same time so finding that balance and that existence together is just exhilarating. We're already lucky enough to get to do what we love for work – we get to come in and play and sing and dance and perform to each other and build these relationships with each other. When you add into that the story like Aladdin it's almost overwhelming, the happiness that comes from that, it's just awesome.

Trevor Dion Nicholas as The Genie

DOH: What's the one thing about the production that you're most excited about to see when you get into the theatre?

DJW: The magic carpet! I just can't wait to get on it with this one.

TD: I can't wait to watch them get on it. I'm going to keep my distance...

JE: We saw it on Broadway, and we've been told that since the technology has been updated and improved – but we can't give anything away! But it's more impressive now than it was even when we saw it back in January. So I'm just really excited to see how that's going to work. It's an interesting thing because we can't practise trying to sing and actually be on the carpet -

DJW: Till we actually do it!

JE: So at the moment we're sort of sitting on boxes cross legged, then imagining that the carpet is spinning around and we've got to stand up and walk around the box, so it's going to be a whole different experience when we actually get there – but it's going to be really exciting.

TD: The carpet does this thing that's really unique where it takes this honest, sweet moment “A Whole New World” which everyone connects with and everybody knows, and the carpet makes it that extra bit of magic that you don't expect to see on stage. It gives it that magic that you won't be able to see anywhere else and that's incredible.

DOH: What has it been like working with director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw?

JE: It's been so much fun working with Casey. I remember from our auditions he just paces up and down in his socks...

DJW: He doesn't wear any shoes!

JE: We've been with him all week working on the scenes, and I said to him yesterday as we were walking down the stairs – Casey, can I ask you a question – why don't you wear any shoes? He said it's just part of his creative process that he doesn't like to feel restricted in any way, he feels comfortable when he hasn't got his shoes on and he's able to really throw himself in, which I thought was really interesting.

DJW: Keeps him grounded he said!

JE: He's really fun

TD: He's a big kid like we are! So that comes into the room and comes into the work – that spark of joy ripples through the rest of the cast. Absolutely – he comes into the room and you know it's going to be time to work, but it's too much fun when you're in the room – it's just a blast.

DJW: It's kind of what you want from a director though.

TD: Seeing him find bits of inspiration from things that are happening and go after those and dig deeper with you, as a director-performer relationship it is, it's a dream.

DJW: You can trust him as well – you can have huge trust in his work.

Aladdin cast in rehearsals (Photo by Johan Persson)

DOH: Of course he's the king of the production number - when I saw "Friend Like Me" it literally stopped the show. How do you get through that number?

TD: Breathing, breathing, breathing! It's a massive number, every time you think you know what's going to happen it surprises you again. I think it pulls back to the joy. When the number officially starts its around eight minutes straight through. For me, a lot of what gets me through it is the fun that we get to have together during it. We've been finding moments to get our connection and it's working, and we're having a good time, everybody is working really really hard to make sure that number is as fun as it should be.

DJW: The thing that gets me through is Trevor pulling me around. For literally the first six minutes of the number he's just pulling me around, dropping me on boxes, throwing me on chairs – I've got loads of dancing girls dancing around me -

TD: Loads of dancing boys dancing around you -

DJW: Flips, gimmicks and gadgets and whatnot happening...

DOH: But the show also has a lot of heart. Aladdin and Jasmine tap into a older audience, and I know Tom Schumacher was adamant that the show appeals to the generation who grew up with the film. How do you help get that across?

JE: It's absolutely a dream come true. Anyone you speak to, boys and girls, the second you say I'm playing Princess Jasmine they're all like "no way!!" I think the moment I tried on my turquoise costume, it's so iconic I couldn't believe it – I was just staring at myself in the mirror thinking this is insane. If someone had said to me as a child that I'd be playing Princess Jasmine I just wouldn't believe them. When I sing "Palace Walls" it's a really nice moment because it's a song that's not in the Disney film, and it's just before she decides to run away to the marketplace. It's a moment that really shows Jasmine's independence and fighting spirit – she's not really sure what's out there but she's going to do it anyway. I love it. The arrangement of the song builds – there's a real story and a narrative and it just builds and by the end it's a really big sing and it's a real moment, I think it sets up the marketplace really nicely. I just feel so fortunate, just really really happy.

DJW: "Proud of Your Boy" is such a beautiful, honest and touching song. The reason why I think it was cut from the film is maybe because it delves too deep into stuff about parents. It's a great song and a beautiful moment. The first time that everything stands still for a second – there's lots of glitz and glamour going on, but it's the first time that there's just one character on stage and everything just becomes still.

JE: I think also with that the subject matters are slightly more mature. Our characters are based slightly older as well and that's the nice thing. It's Disney, and children will be able to look at the costumes and follow the storylines, but as you said for an older generation who grew up with it too it's something that resonates with every day life and something we can all connect to – we all have our issues and our insecurities and that's really nice about it.

TD: There's a lot built into the show for everyone and anyone to connect with and that's what important for longevity and storytelling wise.

DJW: It makes it universal.

DOH: How has the show developed specifically for a London audience?

TD: We've got some very unique surprises for London audiences. What we really wanted to do is make sure that this wasn't just a transfer of what happened on Broadway – we wanted to make sure that this was Aladdin for here, for London. It's not so much catering to a London audience but more making a performance that is specific that audiences can attach and connect to. We definitely have some surprises that you won't see anywhere else in the world but here!

DJW: They better be ready!

TD: I hope so!

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