What a week! Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that we had the energy to get through all of it and still perform a 5-show weekend afterward…but adrenaline and good company will get you through anything, I presume.
The week leading up to Opening Night was fast and furious. We had our director, Casey Nicholaw, join us from New York City for a couple days during Previews. He wasn’t able to come during rehearsals or stay through opening night due to his busy schedule/rehearsal conflicts for his upcoming projects (including the world premiere of the musical The Prom). We also had Thomas Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, come join us in Sydney for a week of previews, and to oversee the Press shoots for the souvenir programs and EPK filming for the B-roll.
What is EPK? Ummm. I honestly have no idea… Let me go for one second and look it up.
Ohhhhh. Okay I’m back. It’s means an “Electronic Press Kit.” That makes sense! We spent a full day filming different parts of the show to create this official trailer, which will be used to market the show in TV and internet commercials, as well as during press interviews. Here’s a behind-the-scenes video showing the day of filming, and also the final product! (I was told that there will also be an extended 90-second version finished at some point).
The film crew that came into the theater had the craziest set up! This company, Steam Motion and Sound, does the EPK filming for almost all of the shows on Broadway and the West End… and it’s clear why! They set up a huge wooden floor that took over at least fifteen rows of theater seats, and on top of it was a gigantic crane with a moving camera (as you can see in the photo at the top of this post). There were also two or three other men walking amidst us onstage, strapped with 70 pounds of camera-gear on the front of their bodies. I felt like I was on the set of a multi-million dollar Hollywood film. The day was full of costume changes and quick setups, but was so smooth and everyone was in good spirits. That was mostly due to our film director, Clayton, who was really amazing: professional, fun, efficient. He also worked with my brother when he shot the EPK for the Broadway production. And although he’s originally from Australia, he currently lives in Brooklyn, just a couple miles away from me!
The most hysterical part of the EPK filming was when Ainsley Melham (who plays Aladdin) and I hopped onto the flying carpet for the iconic “Whole New World” photograph in the souvenir program, and then theater was suddenly filled with 1980s slow-rock love ballads, and several wind machines (high-powered fans). I literally felt like I had stepped into an alternate reality: some strange dreamland where I was Princess Jasmine, but also a supermodel in the 1980s while my hair whipped around me to the rhythm of the music. My mind was working overtime to embrace the strangeness of it all, while remembering to suck in my stomach for the photo. It was surreal and hysterical. Here’s the final image that they chose for the souvenir program:
The week before Opening Night was also full of Press interviews and photo shoots for local Sydney news outlets. My favorite one was a posed picture onstage, in costume, with Ainsley and four other cast members. Why was it my favorite? Because our associate director, Scotty, was there to assist the photographer and make it a perfect image. Epic. Billboard-worthy. Which of course, requires music. In this case: sexy dance songs. He tells us to “strike a sultry pose… no wait a happy pose… okay wait… now no more smiles… be like sexy underwear models… no wait TOO Sexy!… ummmm… uh, more Disney… Ahhhh… More DISNEY!” Oooh right. Disney show. But if you ask for sexy from this smokin’ Aladdin company, be ready to bring a fire extinguisher! It was priceless. I’d post the final image for you here, but I found out that the newspaper decided not to print it… dang it. Maybe we were actually too sexy (although I doubt it, since we did some photos laughing as well), or maybe they just decided that some other big important news was more pressing and we got pushed off the docket.
Preview performances are meant to give the actors time to clean up the show, figure out what’s funny/ what the audience likes/ or what’s not working, and perfect all of the technical elements before Opening Night. And we’re lucky we had the chance to do that. In the middle of the final Preview show (just before the official Opening Night), we actually had to stop the show in the middle of Act 2, right after “A Whole New World”, because the set pieces crashed (and some broke) during what’s meant to be a beautiful, seamless transition from a flying carpet to a parked one, back at Jasmine’s balcony. The carpet was actually fine and wasn’t the problem at all. I think it was due to human error, or a maybe something stuck in the track inside the stage that carries the set pieces onstage. Well, there happened to be a journalist backstage that night who was writing a piece about the show behind the show. He sure had a lot to write about, since he was there for such an eventful evening. We’d never had to bring in the show curtain and stop the show before that night, and it hasn’t happened since. When we finally started the show again, the curtain went up and we jumped in right after “A Whole New World,” and Aladdin’s first line to Jasmine is: “There you are. Back safe and sound.” The audience laughed and applauded the irony of it: we were “safe and sound” after such a loud Crash and broken set pieces. It was a perfect way to segue back into the show. And the audience was totally supportive and cheering us along.
In fact, the nights leading up to Opening Night were full of raucous, happy, excited audiences all around— because these were people who bought tickets to Previews. That means they bought tickets to the show before they read any reviews or saw any advertisements around the city (which mostly started after Opening Night). These were people who, most likely, knew that the Aladdin musical was coming to Sydney and have been counting down the days until that very moment they took their seats.
With all of the media preparations (the show photos, the EPK filming, the interviews) now finished, it’s time open up these palace walls and take everyone on a ride of a lifetime. Stay tuned for my next post about our Official Opening Night!