There is a new Aladdin in Arabia! As of the 5th June, Matthew Croke will be taking on the title role in Disney's spectacular show.
Previously, Croke has understudied major West End roles such as Fiyero in Wicked and Eddie in Funny Girl. He recently appeared as Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain (Salisbury Playhouse and Touring), but Aladdin will be his debut lead role in the West End.
Ahead of the cast change, I chatted to Matthew about what it feels like to be going into the iconic role of Aladdin, and asked some questions from fans who have been following the cast change news on Twitter.
What is the number one reason that people of all ages should come and see Aladdin in the West End?
People should come and watch because … Aladdin is Aladdin. We all love this amazing film that Disney made, but what they've done is put it on stage and added so much more to it; it's just so exciting to sit there and watch it live. They've kept that magic but just been able to put it on stage in such an incredible way. The show's a massive spectacle, and you get to meet other characters that weren't in the film (Aladdin's best mates). With the set and the lights, the design, the costume, the cast – everything in one is just amazing. And that's why people should come and watch. You leave with a massive smile on your face.
What do you think will surprise fans of the film Aladdin when they come to see stage show?
Well you get to meet Omar, Kassim and Babkak – they're great, they're Aladdin's best mates and they bring so much to the show: laughter, love, everything. As well as amazing characters, it will surprise [fans] how magical it feels – and they'll be part of it. You watch it on a TV screen and then they'll be surprised by how magical it [still] feels, if not more, because they'll be a part of it. Disney have done it spot on, it's great.
In your previous shows, have you ever had any on-stage mishaps?
For many years I've understudied some great roles. There was one time in West Side Story, [where] it was my first time on as Riff. It's a great character, and I think my parents had rushed down to come and see me. All of sudden, [from] feeling quite calm and fine about it, I just got this sudden nervous feeling on stage. It was in the song Cool: “boy, boy, crazy boy”, and I sung “boy, boy … boy … boy” and just repeated the word “boy” for a whole sentence. The nerves got the better of me that time. That's one thing that sticks out.
Do you have any pre-show rituals or habits?
No, not at the moment, but this is my first time taking on such a massive role that I'm going to be able to call my own and [perform] every night, so who knows if I'll get into anything. Maybe a good quick workout before the show just to kind of get my blood pumping. I am fully aware that I'll be wearing just a waistcoat, so maybe that will be it. Who knows?
If you could wave a wand (or rub a magic lamp) and turn any other Disney film into a West End show, what would it be?
As well as Aladdin being my favourite Disney film, I've got to say, a few years later they made Toy Story and me and my brother were obsessed with that one as well. He was always Buzz Lightyear and I was always Woody, and I would love to play Woody in Disney's musical Toy Story, that would be great.
Question from Molly: If you could swap roles in the show for a day, who would you play? Or what song do you wish you could be a part of?
Good question! I think, if I was going to do that today, I quite fancy being the Genie today. He is so cool and he has all these magical powers and he can do anything he wants, and I quite fancy doing anything I want today, so I would say the Genie.
Question from Elle: Would you prefer to have a magic carpet or a magic lamp?
A magic lamp, because a Genie comes out of the magic lamp and then I could ask the Genie for a magic carpet ride.
Question from Kate: Did anything in particular inspire you to work in musical theatre?
I've got to say – totally honest, it was my older sister. She started performing when she was young and I kind of followed in her footsteps. Then, I don't know, she might have seen something quite good in me – she made sure that I was always working hard and she knew that I could maybe achieve something like this one day. She always made sure that I was on the right tracks. I've got a lot to owe to her, so she's my biggest inspiration really.
Question from Jane: What three wishes would you love to be granted?
My three wishes... I feel very lucky and grateful at the moment and I can't quite believe it, I'm still pinching myself. So just to continue being able to do what I love to do, being fit and healthy and doing this every day would be awesome. Another wish would be quite similar but different – everyone loves and knows Aladdin so well. It's one of the biggest Disney films in the world and I really hope that I do it justice, so fingers crossed. That's the second wish. And maybe the third wish would be to spend a week on the beach in Barbados in the sunshine.
Question from Stacy: What's your favourite part of the show as a performer and why?
I guess my favourite part of the show as a performer is being able to do all the three things that I've trained to do and worked quite hard doing. I get to sing amazing songs, I get to act with amazing actors and get really into doing some great scenes, and I get to dance as well which is quite rare in playing the lead in a musical – [usually] there wouldn't be as much dancing, or things like that, so I feel very grateful that I get to do all three.
Aladdin is currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre (London), where Matthew Croke will be taking on the title role from the 5th June. This production is not something that you should miss, so make sure that you book your tickets now!
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