Adi Roy stars as Aladdin in Aladdin Tour

Hot on the (oversized) heels of the comedy musical “Tootsie” in January, Little Rock’s Robinson Center Performance Hall has yet another thrilling performance lined up for February. Disney’s “Aladdin” is playing in Arkansas from Feb. 1 – Feb. 5 as part of the show’s 36-city North American tour. The show is part of the Robinson Center’s 2022-2023 Broadway season, in partnership with entertainment agency Celebrity Attractions.

 

Based on the 1992 animated film, the stage production is an extravagant new take on the classic story of comedy, adventure and romance, with glittering costumes and colorful backdrops in every scene. In addition to the five songs from the original soundtrack, the musical features three tracks cut from the film and four new songs written for the stage. Eighty-four special effects bring all of the movie magic to life, from Genie’s antics to Aladdin and Jasmine’s flying carpet ride.

 

On this tour of the award-winning musical, actor Anand Nagraj is taking up the cobra-headed scepter of Jafar, one of Disney’s most infamous villains. For Nagraj, the role is a perfect synthesis of his talents and tastes.

 

“I was familiar with the movie from my childhood, and Jafar definitely left a mark on me back then,” Nagraj said. “It’s fun to be the bad guy, and it plays to a lot of my natural vocal leanings. When you find a part like that you’ve just got to go for it.”

 

In bringing the Sultan’s sinister adviser from the screen to the stage, Nagraj is taking inspiration from a few different sources, including his own background in classic theater productions.

 

“I haven’t done a lot of musicals, but I have done a lot of Shakespeare, and I’m putting that training to work,” he said. “Jafar is larger than life, and it’s helpful to come at the character as a three-dimensional being. Some of those Shakespeare characters are a great analogue for the size that you need to play with.”

 

Another key lies in the look of the character itself. An integral part of Nagraj’s daily routine is showing up for over an hour of makeup application, which he described as extensive and elaborate. On top of having learned a new skill, he’s grateful for the time this process gives him to focus and mentally prepare for each performance. And with all of that practice now under his belt, it’s an ability his family is grateful for as well.

 

Anand Nagraj (Jafar) and Aaron Choi (Iago).

 

“My brothers have already told me that I’m going to be the uncle who gets consulted for Halloween from now on,” Nagraj said.

 

When it comes to completing the look, the costumes are works of art unto themselves. According to the musical’s website, 342 people in 26 different costume shops worked on the pieces, with fabrics imported from Morocco, Turkey, India, Uzbekistan, Guatemala, France, Italy, Germany and China. At the cast’s first technical rehearsal, Nagraj was finally able to put on his full costume, and the difference it made in his performance was palpable.

 

“A lot of the way that Jafar moves is because of what he’s wearing. He presents to the world as very upright, and that’s informed by the height of the costume when everything is on,” Nagraj said. “I have these robes that float beautifully when I turn onstage, and it’s been a real pleasure to figure out how to use that to maximum effect – and how not to trip my fellow actors while everyone is moving around.”

 

He also highlighted the artisans and craftspeople it takes to pull off all of those moving parts. “Larger than life” applies to every character, song and moment, thanks to the expert work of the show’s costume and special effects designers. The musical’s website claims that it takes 180 people to deliver a single performance of “Aladdin,” from the actors to the ushers and every role in between.

 

When asked to reveal some of the secrets behind the illusions, Nagraj said, “Well, it’s all magic. That’s what I can say. Every element of the show is beautifully and exquisitely realized. When people come to see us, they won’t be able to figure out how we’re doing it.”

 

There are parts of the show that even Nagraj can’t wrap his head around, including the sequence for the song “High Adventure,” which is one of the tracks cut from the film and restored for the musical.

 

“The ensemble really makes the show come alive, because they make up so much of every song. They’re doing incredible things that I can’t even begin to comprehend; they are moving and singing and giving wonderful acting performances all at the same time,” Nagraj said. “‘High Adventure’ is hilariously funny and incredibly well-sung, but it also features this dashing swordplay throughout.”

 

Nagraj is glad to be taking Jafar on the road, not least because it allows him to see new parts of the country. Touring also gives him the chance to revisit cities he’s worked in over the course of his regional theater career.

 

aladdin

 

“One of the joys of my career has been that I’ve done a lot of different things. It keeps me mentally engaged to jump from style to style and project to project, to do things all over the map and be very different each time,” he said. “Hopefully, I get to keep that up and work on as many things as possible for the rest of my career.”

 

Nagraj and the rest of the cast are also fascinated by the way different audiences engage with the show from city to city. No two groups react exactly the same way to the jokes and the action, even on different nights at the same venue. That’s only enhanced by the way this story has been refreshed from the movie to the musical.

 

“There’s so much material that is from the movie, but there’s an equal amount of material that is new to this stage version,” Nagraj said. “If all you’re familiar with is that movie, it will be brand new to you.”

 

“Aladdin” has been a hit from the moment it premiered and continues to play eight times per week at Broadway’s historic New Amsterdam Theatre. The show has been seen by more than 14 million people worldwide, from Mexico City to Tokyo. This tour, which kicked off in October of 2022, marks the first time “Aladdin” can be seen in the United States and Canada (outside of New York) since before the pandemic. Other main cast members for the North American tour include Adi Roy as Aladdin, Senzel Ahmady as Jasmine, Marcus M. Martin as Genie and Aaron Choi as Iago.

 

For all of its enchantment, “Aladdin” is just one of the must-see shows coming to the Robinson Center Performance Hall this year. Though not technically a part of the official Broadway season, “Chicago” will bring its world-renowned song and dance numbers to the Little Rock stage as part of its 25th anniversary tour from March 17 to 18.

 

After “Aladdin” leaves town, the Robinson Center will be halfway through its 2022-2023 Broadway season with Celebrity Attractions. In another hit musical adapted from the screen, “Legally Blonde: The Musical” will be in town April 21 – April 23. Wrapping up the Broadway season is the classic “My Fair Lady” from May 19 – May 21. The latest on ticket sales and more information can be found on the Robinson Center website.

 

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