It’s OPENING NIGHT. The night we’ve all been waiting for… working towards… dreaming about. Aside from rehearsing the show, we’ve also spent loads of time and attention picking out the right gifts and greeting cards to congratulate our fellow company members and, of course, choosing the fiercest, sexiest, most stylish outfits for the after-party. Duh.
After having the afternoon off from rehearsals, we arrive at the theatre around 4pm with a buzz of excitement. I meet Ainsley (Aladdin) and Michael James Scott (Genie) in the Genie dressing room, and then we deliver our presents to everyone (we designed cool black t-shirts printed with the cheeky phrase “I’m kinda a Big Deal in Agrabah”).
Others are walking around to each other’s dressing rooms too, delivering personalized cards and presents. There are also some gifts waiting for us in our dressing rooms that were shipped to Australia from the producers & creative teams back in NYC… like these incredible prints of the original costume designs by Broadway’s Gregg Barnes.
We’ve been working towards this night for almost two months. There are over 2100 audience members coming, including family and friends visiting from out of town, and theater critics from all over Australia, all of whom are coming to claim those soft cushy seats veeeeeery soon.
The full cast was called to the stage at 4:30pm for a meeting, and when we walked in, we saw that every single seat in the theater had a gold souvenir program propped on top of it! How fancy! We had literally just taken the photos 5 days beforehand, so I have no idea how they finished the books that fast. Apparently they had just arrived from the print shop, and the marketing design team must’ve not slept a wink to make it all happen in such a quick turnaround.
Our associate director, Scotty, and choreographer, Ben, gave us a little pep talk, and thanked us for all of our hard work to get us to this point. And then we did something I never expected. While we all stood onstage in front of an empty theater, Scotty told us that we were now going to do the opening number, “Arabian Nights,” onstage…all the way through… (even though no one had warmed up, since we didn’t think this was a scheduled rehearsal)… and there was a caveat: we could play any role we wanted in the song, we couldn’t use any props, and everyone was required to participate. Um, say that again?
So the pianist starts playing the music, and nobody knows what’s happening exactly. But people jump in… Gareth Jacobs (the Genie standby) starts singing the song as the Genie, and then some people start dancing in unassigned tracks, and then my cast mate Will Centurion asks if I want to be a “dervish dancer” with him… which of course I do (even though I have no idea what that entails). So I look over and copy Will’s moves, and we start twirling downstage while the Genie sings “see the dervishes dance in ridiculous pants…” Meanwhile, Ainsley (our Aladdin) comes onstage when the Genie introduces Jasmine, so I turn around and play Aladdin for the rest of the song. When we get to the part of the song when the ladies are supposed to dance gracefully with their colorful scarves, the ensemble of male dancers suddenly remove their shirts and do the entire choreography in the correct female formation, using their shirts as scarves! It was hilarious, and unexpected.
I’d never done that before, and it was such a brilliant way for us to connect to the show, to each other, and to our creativity. The entire song is about six minutes long. And in these magical minutes, our associate director accomplished 3 amazing things. 1) He put us in the mindset of the show… instead of our prior headspace of delivering cards/presents and organizing our post-show plans. 2) He brought us together with a unified goal, helping us feel more connected to each other and the reality of dealing with the unexpected. And 3) He invited us into a play space. Literally, into a space of playing with each other. As actors, most of our entire careers were sparked from playing around as kids do: falling in love with the playfulness of singing, dancing, and creating other characters in a make-believe reality. And when those things become a career, it’s rare that we actually get a chance to spontaneously play, jumping into other roles without having auditioned for them, and without the self-imposed pressure to do it well.
After this wildly fun and unexpected exercise, the show itself went smoothly, and the audience was with us the entire time. We were hoping for a receptive, enthusiastic and loud audience that night, and they did not disappoint. They applauded when the magic carpet flew, and leapt to their feet at the end of “Friend Like Me,” as you can see in this image here.
After the curtain came down, we quickly changed into our party outfits, and were taken in purple Aladdin-painted taxis to the official Opening Night Gala at the fancy Sofitel Sydney Hotel. There were numerous photographers awaiting our arrival, standing in front of a purple carpet (instead of a red carpet), and hundreds of happy people blocking our way to the food table. Kidding. There were lots of food tables, and drink stations, placed around a glorious Agrabah-inspired ballroom, decorated with a Moroccan/Turkish flair.
Here’s a short video montage showing all of the magical Opening festivities (throughout the epic day) from my perspective:
And this video was released from Disney as our OFFICIAL Opening Night footage :)
The next day is when reality sets in… With the show now open, it was time to say goodbye to our fearless leaders. Our creative team, our marketing team, our hair/makeup designers, our technical crew from NYC… were all leaving us forever. They came to Sydney to mount a masterpiece, and then it was time to leave it in our hands.
It’s hard to imagine doing the show without their guidance and support and, okay… hand-holding. We’ve been at it for a few weeks now, and it’s been going well, but I still miss their energy, their smiles and their input. In fact, I’d grown accustomed to knowing that I was doing well onstage if they didn’t have any notes or adjustments for me. And now I’m forced to put my trust in myself, and in our lovely resident director/choreographer Sharon Millerchip, who is divine and brilliant. Okay girl, here we go… [singing this song in my head]…
Okay, No, actually, I know it’s more than just the two of us. We have a couple of fierce dance captains, and an unbelievable team of people working with us at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. And I have endless trust in them. Now our job is to maintain the show, and allow it to grow and deepen as it inevitably will, while Sharon will make sure that our depth isn’t accompanied with too much dead air (since too many lengthly pauses onstage between lines will make the show lose its magic, even if it doesn’t feel that way to us onstage).
A brilliant Broadway director, Jeff Calhoun, once cautioned me to remember to keep my show consistent, even if it doesn’t feel the same as it used to. He warned me that when doing the same show, 8x a week for months or years, it’s normal to feel like we’ve lost touch with some of the emotional moments of the show. They don’t feel as fresh as they used to, so we may naturally try to change/adjust our performance to recreate the feeling we once had. But in actuality, the moment is just as potent for the audience who is experiencing it for the first time… even if it feels different for the actor experiencing it for the hundredth time. And in trying to fix it (to recreate the emotional charge we once felt), we are doing a disservice to the show… and little by little, the show loses the tightness, and pressurized brilliance, it once held.
At this moment, Aladdin is a diamond. It’s fresh, it’s tight, and it shines real bright. This beautiful collection of souls will continue to share the light of Agrabah with thousands of theater-goers in Sydney. And we promise to maintain the truth and specificity that we chiseled into ourselves during our work with our creative team. Thank you to everyone who helped us build a beautiful show, and who held our hands while guiding us into this magical cave of Wonders. Our show belongs to you too, even though you are now a million miles away.