NEW DELHI

From the land of Agrabah...

Casting a spell:Siddharth Menon as Aladdin; (left) Mantra as GenieSpecial Arrangement

Casting a spell:Siddharth Menon as Aladdin; (left) Mantra as GenieSpecial Arrangement  

Genie, I wish! These iconic words take us soaring back to our faint but fond childhood memories of a street urchin, a princess, a magic lamp and an eccentric Genie.

After having been mesmerised by the enchanting Beauty and The Beast, those who were waiting to be enthralled by another Broadway style musical, the adventures of Aladdin is the latest musical to immerse into. We have experienced the 1992 movie, numerous Indian adaptations have been made and our conversations reek of references to the magic lamp, three wishes and a good-humoured Genie. Theatre enthusiasts can now savour the fantastical land of Agrabah, refresh childhood memories or introduce children to one of Disney’s most popular fables.

When we talk to Shruti Sharma, the director of the show, one can sense the deep affection and love that she has for the musical that she has created. She describes the experience of being at the helm of a show of such mammoth proportions as overwhelming. “I wanted to transport the audience to the magical land of Agrabah, get away from their busy lives and experience pure joy,” says Shruti, who is making her debut as a director with the musical.

Originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, Aladdin premièred in Seattle in 2011. It has been playing across the world since. The Indian production promises extravagant sets depicting 14 locations, 450 lavish costumes, a flying magic carpet, choreographed sequences and dazzling special effects.

Shruti, who was also the associate director on Beauty And The Beast, brings her years of experience and uncanny sense of storytelling to the table. She informs us that some changes have been made to the script to make it locally relevant so as to not to alienate the audience. “The creative process began in September last year with gruelling auditions and rehearsals began in earnest from February.”

The show boasts of a stellar cast and crew. Kira Narayanan, who plays Jasmine, says, “Shruti and I spent quite a while discussing about how we wanted to portray Jasmine. We were clear in our heads that we wanted Jasmine to be seen as real girl, as someone whom the audiences could relate to as their sister, daughter or wife. We kept certain contemporary traits in mind while portraying the character of Jasmine. We wanted the audience to see the girl behind the princess who is feisty, angry, knows what she wants and how to get it.”

Not just a pretty princess

Did it bother her to play a pretty Disney princess whom as all of us know did not have any agency? “She is a princess, she lives in a palace, has her ladies maids attending to her but she is also one of those who takes matters into her own hands and climbs over the wall to escape the Palace. That is what makes her special and like I have mentioned we have tried to portray her as a girl who embodies the values of today.”

Siddharth Menon, who plays Aladdin, says that he was looking for an opportunity like this for the longest time. He comments that the rehearsals were intensive. “We began with vocal training, learnt the songs and choreography and just as were beginning to feel comfortable with the individual elements we had the challenge of putting it all together.” He says that there were moments of doubt and insecurity but the creative team provided rock solid support and had complete faith in him.

Scope for live entertainment

Talking about the future of commercial theatre in India, Siddharth, who has his own theatre company, comments, “When I started out a lot of people had doubts about the viability of theatre as a career option claiming that it’s dead. But I am glad that people stuck to it. Everyone involved in the musical has a theatre background and we believe that theatre as an art form deserves to stay alive. The footfall that the musical has received is reassuring. Digital medium may be dominant but there is an audience out there who wants to see live entertainment.”

Because of logistical reasons, the musical has not one but two Aladdins. Taaruk Raina, who also plays Aladdin, calls the rehearsals one of the best part of this entire journey. “An atmosphere of working together as one unit had developed during the rehearsals. We always had each other’s back and there was no sense of competition.”

Aladdin can never be complete without the very blue Genie played by the famous radio jockey and theatre artist Mantra. He says that there is a pressure to play a character that has been immortalised by the iconic Robin Williams but he is channelising that constructively and trying to create his own moments on the stage. He says that his entrance on the stage is one of the most surreal experiences of his career and he would cherish that for a long time. On a side note, he jests, “This might be the fittest genie you have ever come across.”

Seasoned theatre artist, Vikrant Chaturvedi who plays Jafar, the villain of the piece, says that negative characters are more nuanced and interesting.

Produced by BookMyShow, the team had the best in the business to bring this Disney tale to life. Shampa Gopikrishna and Bertwin D’Souza for choreography, Suzane D’Mello for vocal coaching, Dhruv Ghanekar for music and Varsha Jain for set design. Costumes are one of the many tools at the disposal of a director to bring her creative vision to life. That is what Gavin Miguel has done for this extravagant show. Miguel and his team have created about 450 costumes. Kira is all praise for the designer as she explains that the feeling of playing Jasmine really hit her when she tried the costume. “I felt like Princess Jasmine for the first time when I put on the costume. Embellished with sequins and layers, it is what a princess would wear.”

( Aladdin will be staged in Delhi from July 6th onwards at Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium, New Delhi )

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