Disney's Aladdin Opens in the West End
We attend the press night of Aladdin and chat to the cast and creatives.
Last night the Tony-nominated Disney Musical Aladdin opened at the Prince Edward Theatre to a packed house of celebrities and special guests. As one of the most anticipated musical openings of the year, Walt Disney Theatricals pulled out all the stops to ensure that guests were transported to a Whole New World, with a spectacular party at the National Gallery following the fantastic performance, that enjoyed not one, but two standing ovations.
We were not only lucky enough to be part of the audience, but also got a chance to speak to the lead cast members and creative team who have brought this fantastic new Disney musical to the West End. Read our interviews with the cast and creative team below:
Jade Ewen (Princess Jasmine)
Congratulations on a fantastic opening, Jade. How did you find it?
JE: Overwhelming, completely overwhelming and probably the highlight of my career. I've absolutely loved every minute of it. You don't expect the VIP audience to be quite so enthusiastic! They're in the industry, they've seen the tricks before but it was the most incredible response. We had standing ovations halfway through act one! Endless roars and cheers and we had the most amazing time. The magic carpet worked perfectly – we flew and sang at the same time!
Is it really a dream come true to be playing Jasmine?
JE: I remember the first time I saw Aladdin because my parents bought me the movie on VHS tape, and me and my sister watched it again and again, it's kind of crazy that here I am playing Jasmine!
What's it been like working with your co-stars?
JE: My co-stars are the most talented and loveliest people, I have so much fun with them. It's a shame I don't get to spend much time with The Genie, but he's the most fun and the most gentle sweetheart.
The show is such a spectacle!
JE: The costumes are insane. One of our gifts tonight was the original costume design sketches for each character, and they're so beautiful and so detailed. When you see them up close and in detail – I think there are 2.8 million crystals in the show, there are 1700 crystals on just one male Friend Like Me costume – it's insane.
If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
JE: I'd say happiness, I'd say adventure and I'd probably keep one for a rainy day!
Why should audiences not miss Aladdin?
JE: It's an absolute spectacle, you'll have the most fun. It's the biggest production ever to come to the West End and that's not just me saying that, it's a fact. We had standing ovations halfway through act one – if that isn't enough to get you down here then I don't know what is.
Dean-John Wilson (Aladdin)
Dean, were you happy with that audience response?
DJW: Yes – it was brilliant, everyone on their feet, it was so nice to have that.
Aladdin is so familiar with British audiences who are very used to panto. How did you make sure your Aladdin was primarily a musical theatre one rather than panto?
DJW: Our piece has a lot of heart and a lot of truth, people who have seen the film can expect the Disney songs that they know. There are elements of pantomime in it, that's part of the whole Disney feel, there's something for everyone.
There's so much energy on that stage – can Trevor keep that up?!
DJW: Of course he can! He's the most energetic person I've ever come across. He's got a heart of gold, wears his heart on his sleeve and he's just like that all the time, on and off stage. He's the bomb, he's on it all the time.
What's it like working with Jade?
DJW: She's just the perfect Princess, the epitome of all Princesses. She sings like a dream, acts like a dream, looks okay – it's wonderful to have someone this brilliant as my co-star.
Trevor Dion Nicholas (Genie)
Trevor – how does it feel to bring the Genie to life?
TDN: It's awesome – I get to take 10 year old Trevor's dreams and put them all up on-stage and play with the audience and the rest of the cast.
How much room do you have to play?
TDN: I have the ability to play the most out of all the characters and depending on the mood of the audience I can feel it out and keep it interesting. You guys were amazing tonight, you were one of the best houses we've had. “Friend Like Me”, that reaction was the most incredible feeling! We get a good reaction all the time but we don't always get a standing ovation. London audiences have been fantastic – I was nervous at first coming over, I didn't know how the audiences would react but they've been very receptive and very responsive.
How much time did you get to really make the show your own?
TDN: I had a ton of time. In New York there was a mould that was already there, not just my character but the whole show – it's very specific to London and it's a show you can't get anywhere else on the planet.
How did you first get involved with the role?
TDN: I had the VHS tape and the cassette tape as a kid, and I'd sing along all the time – it was always my favourite. Then I saw the Tony Awards performances, and I went to the show on my birthday in 2014, then in January 2015 I auditioned for the role. Part of the magic! It's the most enjoyable job I've ever had, between the adrenalin and the way that people react to it it's too much fun to be daunting or exhausting, it's just a blast.
Casey Nicholaw (Director / Choreographer)
What a reaction, a mid-show standing ovation! Is that something you're used to?
CN: This was the first time that I've seen it here, it's the first show that I've done where it gets a standing ovation mid-show. When it happened again in Something Rotten I was blown away because I thought it was something that just happened because everyone knew “Friend Like Me”, so that was funny.
What makes the show so special?
CN: This show is completely unapologetic in its over-the-top-ness with the costumes and the glitter. We don't apologise for it, we say here it is and we're proud of it. The genie even says it's more glitz and glamour than in the whole world, it lets audiences know what they're going to see for the whole night, instead of saying “I didn't expect it to be like this” he tells you right off the top it's going to b e glitzy – it has the kitchen sink thrown at it!
Aladdin is such an amazing role – what did you see in Dean?
CN: It's a misleading role because people think he's just a straight man and Dean's doing a great job at that part, he's on-stage the whole time and he has to drive the show. I think every Aladdin says gosh – I didn't think it was going to be that hard. He's gorgeous to look at and I also like his goofiness, he has a little bit of goofiness in him which I think works really well. He was able to bring his own take to the role.
What about Jade?
CN: I looked at her – she's beautiful, she has the look of a Princess. I just knew her from the girl who auditioned and she was fantastic.
With “Friend Like Me”, how did you even begin to create that number?
CN: I sat with dance arranger Glenn Kelly to start with, and I said this is what I want, I want sections and he just wrote it. Then I basically just played it over and over and started envisioning things. It was sort of like what we did with Spamalot with the Camelot number, it had to be like you're changing channels. We had to do our own version of Robin Williams morphing with different sections, so that the genie could shift with each section.
London can't wait for your next show, Dreamgirls!
CN: Oh my gosh I can't wait to do Dreamgirls here, we have such a great cast.
Chad Beguelin (Book and Lyrics)
Congratulations Chad, how did you find the London premiere?
CB: It was amazing. The amazing thing about this cast is how fresh they make it, they all brought their own personalities to it, so it felt like a whole new show even though I've seen it a million times – it was thrilling to watch.
As the book writer, how much did you have to change or adapt for London audiences?
CB: The funny thing is we did a whole pass of the script before we even started rehearsals where we changed the references to make them more British, and the first read through the London cast said “no no no no no! We're going back to your American references, we get them. We don't need your fish and chips jokes, we get the Americanisms!£ It was great to have them as a guide as to what audiences will know.
Going right back to pre-Seattle, when you first sat down to adapt the screenplay, how did you begin to create a piece of musical theatre?
CB: The challenging yet exciting thing was that Alan wanted to incorporate all of the cut songs that he and Howard Ashman had written, so that meant we couldn't do a direct version of the movie, so we had to make a book that made sense with these song in a musical theatre version of Aladdin rather than the movie version of Aladdin. But also we had to make sure that fans of the movie were not disappointed, so it was a bit of a balancing act to make it work.
Did you consciously remove the animals from the book to make it different on stage?
CB: Very early on there was a discussion about the character of Iago. Very wisely Tom Schumacher said we can't top The Lion King and Julie Taymor world, so it became clear to make him a human and we had to populate the world with humans, so it's not just a show for a certain age group, it's a show for everyone. So it became a 'sexier' version of the show.
Writing with Alan in the shadow of Howard Ashman, did that ever create pressure for you?
CB: The reason I even became a writer was because of Howard Ashman, when I saw Little Shop of Horrors and it was probably the first time I really paid attention to lyrics. The idea that I would be in some way heplping some of his beautiful songs that the world didn't know as well familiar to people was amazing – it's definitely pressure. It's funny because I told Alan after working with him for a while that I kept a picture of Howard Ashman on my desk, and I didn't want him to think that was creepy, and he said no no – that's not creepy at all, he's here with us all the time. My biggest goal, I hope that he's happy with what we've done.