Vastavam web: The lights are dimmed and an entourage of dancers enter the stage in harem pants crooning about a “faraway place, where the caravan camels roam”, and where the “heat is intense” but they love it for “it’s home”.The Jawaharlal Nehru indoor stadium reverberated with high notes of the “Arabian Nights”, the opening song of the 1992 Aladdin movie, but this time it was sung live by actors for Disney’s latest theatrical adaptation of the film.
The Broadway-style musical production brought to life the tale of how Aladdin, a “diamond in the rough”, became the successor to the sultan of the fabled city of Agrabah. Genie is still doing his goofy tricks, the sultan is the same jolly little fellow worried about his rebellious daughter Jasmine, and Aladdin is still the street rat who wants to be rich.
But, for its shows in India, the production that is being staged in various parts of the world since 2011, has brought in local elements to make it more relevant for the audience.While the rest of the characters speak in English, Aladdin and Genie can be seen conversing in Hindi. The performers were tutored by vocal trainer Suzanne D’Mello. Menon, who jumped off roofs and performed acrobatics to showcase Aladdin’s “street rat” character, said the singing and the dancing were the most challenging yet satisfactory parts of performing the musical.
“We did separate sessions with the choreographers and trainers for a month and a half. Then later we did it as a team,” he said. For Puranjit Dasgupta, better known as Mantra, to transform into Genie was difficult, particularly because he had to match up to the singing of Academy award winning actor Robin Williams, who voiced the blue, potbellied magical character. The television actor reimagines the role of the wish-granting blue spirit with his identifiable satire and comic timing.
“Now when people will see Genie they will say Mantra. I have made the character my own,” he said. Jasmine, played by Kira Narayanan, comes back almost three decades later as a fiercer, more outspoken princess. She is an ultimate 21st century woman, says Narayanan, who feels it was necessary to portray strong female characters.After a spectacular show in Mumbai that saw an overwhelming attendance of over 30,000 people, Sharma, who was part of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” musical in 2015, said the Indian audience was gradually taking a liking for theatrical musical productions. “We received some great responses on ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ has also been doing very well. I do think the Indian audience is ready… it is a little bit about reaching out to them,” she says.