“Aladdin” is at the National Theatre, and we talked with actor Ben Chavez about how the play differs from the beloved movie.
“Aladdin” was one of the biggest animated films of all time, and a Broadway production of the film continues to play to sold-out crowds. The national tour of the musical comedy is headed to The National Theatre April 19-30, bringing audiences into a world of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance.
Under the direction of Casey Nicholaw, the theatrical musical features music by Tony Award and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, lyrics by two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman, three-time Tony Award and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice and six-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin.
In the touring production, Adi Roy and Senzel Ahmady get to ride the magic carpet as lovebirds Aladdin and Jasmine respectively, while Marcus M. Martin plays everyone’s favorite blue genie in the lamp.
The musical follows the hit 1992 animated film for the most part, though Jafar’s sidekick Iago is now a human lackey rather than a parrot, and Abu the monkey has been replaced by Aladdin’s three buddies — Kassim, Babkak and Omar.
Kassim, Babkak and Omar are part of Aladdin’s gang of street rats and are there for him at every turn. In the first act, the four friends do a song and dance number to the Agrabah marketplace in hopes of raising some money, and in Act 2, the guys are involved in a big sword fight number and have the show’s big 11-o-clock song, “Somebody’s Got Your Back.”
Ben Chavez, who plays Omar, began touring with the production in 2019, and though the tour shut down for a while due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he was right back in Omar’s sandals when the musical was back up and running.
“These characters were actually a part of the original blueprint of the film in the ’90s,” Chavez says. “Because animal sidekicks had appeared on Vogue Magazine, they decided to give Aladdin Abu, the monkey sidekick, instead.”
However, when director Casey Nicholaw was helping create the theatrical show, he decided to bring back the three characters and do away with Abu.
“I love that the creative team decided to add some new characters,” Chavez says. “The songs had already been written, so they dusted them off and put them in the show. Of the three friends, Omar is the shy, romantic one who just wants to be there for his best friend.”
Chavez enjoys playing the role because he considers himself much like the character — a nice, fun, silly guy — and characterizes Omar as him, just turned up about five notches.
But even with some of the changes, fans of the movie will still get most of their favorite moments — including the Cave of Wonders and the magic carpet ride.
“The heart of the story is still there,” Chavez says. “You will see the same storyline you know and love but with some new characters and additional songs you’ve never heard before. People are dazzled by all the colors and the magic we have in the show.”
Chavez has been in the arts since he was little, growing up 20 minutes from Manhattan. His first love was the piano at the age of three, but he soon found the theatre bug and began taking singing and dancing lessons.
“I was a Broadway song and dance man in the making,” he says. “My mom would take me into New York City to see Broadway shows for fun on the weekends. I couldn’t believe this was something people did for a living.”
He studied theatre at NYU, graduated in 2015 and has been working pretty consistently as both an actor and composer ever since. Chavez also writes his own pop music and has a five-song EP slated to be released this summer.
But he’s excited to continue touring with “Aladdin” for the rest of the year and doesn’t want this adventure to end. He encourages people to come to The National Theatre to see this show while they can.
“Theatre is so magical and after two years of no theatre, this is the time to buy tickets,” Chavez says. “Aladdin is one of those shows that you just won’t be disappointed by. It’s packed with Disney magic that we all know and love.”
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