Jafar invites you to experience ‘A Whole New World’ in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ at National Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Aladdin' at National Theatre (Part 1)

Come on down, stop on by, hop a carpet and fly to another Broadway night in D.C.

The North American tour of Disney’s “Aladdin” hits National Theatre from April 19 to April 30.

“I was at prime Disney age when the movie came out,” Actor Anand Nagraj told WTOP. “I was 8 or 9, so ‘Aladdin’ was my Disney movie, not least of all because the characters were all people who looked like me. I don’t think I clocked at the time how big of a thing that was … I just ate it up! When I booked this job, my mom dug through the attic and found the old Jafar action figure from a McDonald’s Happy Meal, so I’ve got him now, he tours with me.”

Nagraj, who grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, and attended the University of Richmond, plays the evil sorcerer Jafar. The character was voiced in the Disney flick by Jonathan Freeman, who returned in Broadway’s “Aladdin” (2014).

“I can’t think of another performer who has taken an animated performance and made it a live performance,” Nagraj said. “Absolutely big shoes to fill and it’s an honor to get to do it. For me, I have this wonderful template of the animated movie, not just the vocal performance but also the way that Jafar is drawn and the way that he moves on screen. I’m never going to be a cartoon, but I can take from that and that definitely informs what I do.”

Adapted by Chad Beguelin from the 1992 Disney film, the story is set in the fictional Middle East city of Agrabah where a kindhearted pauper Aladdin (Adi Roy) finds a magic lamp in the Cave of Wonders. Here, a Genie (Marcus Martin) grants him three wishes, turning him into a prince to woo Princess Jasmine (Senzel Ahmady).

“It’s a guy really down on his luck making some poor life choices and he stumbles upon the thing we all wonder about: If we could have any wish we could possibly desire granted to us,” Nagraj said. “We follow Aladdin along as he figures his way out and ultimately becomes a better person, the person he is supposed to be.”

The iconic songbook was written by the legendary duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”), as well as Tim Rice, who stepped in for Ashman when he died in 1991. You’ll hear all of your favorite songs, like The Genie’s “Friend Like Me,” initially performed by the late Robin Williams.

“The phrase ‘tour-de-force’ is all that comes to mind,” Nagraj said. “It is nonstop and it’s a fairly long song, so when you consider what he’s doing for all of that time, it is incredible what Marcus does and also what our brilliant and wonderful ensemble does. I think the real star of our entire show is our ensemble, who is singing and dancing and playing parts throughout … ‘Friend Like Me’ is a particularly cool showcase for all of them.”

The ensemble gets another spotlight during “Prince Ali,” as Aladdin flaunts his new Prince Ali makeover to Jasmine with extravagant fanfare. Jafar mockingly reprises the song later when he exposes Aladdin’s true identity.

“It is a parade of people,” Nagraj said. “It showcases Marcus’ performance as the Genie a lot, he’s front and center, but again the ensemble is just filling the stage and doing these remarkable things that I don’t know how any human being can dance like that and also sing beautiful at the same time, but they do … I have a big 11:00 number (reprise), but also in this stage production, Jafar has a big number early in the show called ‘Diamond in the Rough.'”

Of course, the big show-stopping number is Aladdin and Jasmine singing to each other on a magic carpet ride for the love duet “A Whole New World,” which won the Oscar, along with a second Oscar for Best Original Score.

“It’s a truly remarkable thing to see on stage,” Nagraj said. “Everybody is caught up in the story, you know that big song is coming, but we are so rooting for Aladdin and Jasmine in that moment that you want to cheer, but also you want to stay quiet so you can hear every word … it’s a beautiful moment.”

The production also features new songs that didn’t make the cut for the animated film but finally got their flowers on Broadway, including “Proud of Your Boy.”

“He’s singing to his mother who has recently passed,” Nagraj said. “It is such a beautiful song and Adi performs it so brilliantly. That’s a big highlight for me of the stuff you won’t recognize from the original film … Ashman and Menken wrote it for the original film and when you hear it, you’ll be like, how did this not wind up in the movie? But the way the movie was flowing, they didn’t have time or space for it, but we’re the beneficiaries now.”

The beautiful music is paired with a visual feast for the eyes by Tony-winning director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “Something Rotten!”), featuring sets by Bob Crowley (“Mary Poppins”), costumes by Gregg Barnes (“Kinky Boots”) and lighting by Natasha Katz (“An American in Paris”).

“The costumes are gorgeous, the sets are beautiful, and there’s some awesome projection work,” Nagraj said. “Apart from how cool the story is, just as a theatrical experience, it’s something that you don’t want to miss.”

The show runs for two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.

It is recommended for children ages 6 or older.

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Aladdin' at National Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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