Behind the Scenes with Anand Nagraj from Disney’s Aladdin
Ashleigh Prince spoke with Anand Nagraj from Disney’s Aladdin about his role, the Aladdin production, his career and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Ashleigh: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre, and a very, very happy holidays from all of us here in Worcester. Today is a very special episode, we are bringing even more magic to the holiday season, we are talking to Anand Nagraj from Aladdin, coming to The Hanover Theatre March 15 – 19. Good morning!
Anand: Good morning. Thank you for having me, Ashleigh.
Ashleigh: Of course, thank you so much for coming on. As the resident Disney fan here in our marketing department, I have been hyping it up a lot. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, I’ve been looking at that merch, all in anticipation for it to finally arrive on our main stage. If I haven’t mentioned it already, Anand plays Jafar in this wonderful production. We are so excited to welcome you to Worcester. Have you ever been here before?
Anand: I have been near Worcester. My wife grew up in New Hampshire, so we are frequently passing through.
Ashleigh: Well, we are excited to welcome you to the city. We hope that you enjoy it and we can make some great recommendations to explore the city while you’re here. Let’s begin by talking about the show itself. Disney’s Aladdin, I think “Aladdin” as a film is one of the most popular ones in the Disney collection, and on November 25 of this year, “Aladdin” turned 30 which I think is crazy. I’m 25 and I grew up with “Aladdin,” so hearing that makes me feel a little crazy. I think that is such an incredible milestone and it obviously inspired so much. What are your thoughts on that original film?
Anand: That milestone is even wilder for me because, I’m not going to give specific dates but I was a kid growing up and going to see it in the movie theaters. I don’t think I realized it until I began working on this theatrical production, but that the movie was huge for me as a kid growing up. It was right in the sweet spot of my Disney childhood experience and so that was my Disney movie, not to mention that it was filled with characters who looked like me and that was a big deal.
Ashleigh: That was huge for me, too. I really connected with “Aladdin” because at the time, I didn’t have many princesses that looked like me. Princess Jasmine held a very special place in my heart, also the fact that she was so outspoken, knew what she wanted and was not afraid to let everyone know, I loved that about her and how she was really pushing that landscape for what it meant to be a Disney princess.
Ashleigh: You are playing Jafar. I think that he is one of the best Disney villains, and he also holds a special place in my heart. How has it been to connect with Jafar and to step in his shoes?
Anand: It’s a lot of fun. That’s a very simple answer to the question but that’s it, it’s truly so much fun. A big part of my daily transformation into Jafar is he has some extensive makeup, and that’s a process that I’ve had to learn for this show. It requires me to really spend a lot of time staring Jafar in the face every day, and it’s just been so much fun as far as the onstage stuff goes. It’s all the stuff that you really want to do that you don’t always get a chance to do, to flex that muscle. I am still perfecting my evil laugh. I get to practice it so much. It’s a great deal of fun.
Ashleigh: There’s a variety of spooky laughs that you could that you could do. There’s the deep low rumble, there’s that slow build. What’s that sweet spot for your Jafar?
Anand: It shifts throughout the show. Like you said, there are different versions of it. There’s the straight-out cackle, there’s a lot of different versions, but for me, the quintessential one starts very low. It comes from the iconic, stereotypical villain laugh and it just builds from there. It’s a lot of fun to do.
Ashleigh: We had the pleasure to go see Aladdin before it arrived here at The Hanover Theatre, and I really enjoyed the dynamic between Jafar and Iago. It’s different from the film, Iago is not appearing as a bird, for one, but I think the back and forth has really shifted in such a great way. I think the two characters complement each other so well, especially on the bit about the spooky voice. I think people are going to really like the new additions to this show. Speaking of new additions to the show, can you name maybe a couple of other things that are different from the film that everyone knows?
I think one of the coolest parts about Aladdin is there are so many elements and so many songs, that are familiar, but there’s also so much music that is new to this show.Anand Nagraj
Anand: For instance, there’s a beautiful song that Aladdin sings towards the start of the show called “Proud of your Boy” and it’s just absolutely gorgeous. I have an entrance right after, and because of that I have the pleasure of getting to just watch it from the wings every night. It’s just heartbreaking and beautiful, and something that is only a part of the stage show. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say probably half of the music in the show is new to the stage version, not part of the film.
Ashleigh: What I love about the new songs is they still have the same heart, the same energy. If you had never seen the film and you just saw the musical, you would never know what’s new and what isn’t.
Anand: Absolutely. It all fells like one voice, it feels like it’s all one thing.
Ashleigh: Yeah, unless there’s someone sitting next to you that’s singing the entire soundtrack and they get quiet. Let’s talk a little bit more about you and your career in the performing arts. Aside from Aladdin, what are some of your favorite credits?
Anand: I’ve been working in theatre for a long, long time. I have performed a lot of Shakespeare’s plays at many different theatres across the country. Another thing I am doing now is I do a lot of voiceover work. You might know me for a particular breakfast cereal brand.
Ashleigh: I saw that in your bio and I thought that it was gr-r-r-eat.
Anand: Yes, it is true, I am Tony the Tiger.
Ashleigh: Which I think is incredible. I see that the credit is voice and motion capture. It’s super interesting that had never occurred to me before, that they are doing motion capture for him, but I guess that makes sense. I see other credits on here for TV is “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Chicago Fire.” Obviously very different, but I think that variety is incredible.
Anand: I live in Chicago when I’m not out on the road and that’s one of the many wonderful things about working there as an actor, it affords for a lot of variety across different media and genre in the career because there’s just a lot of different varied opportunities there. There’s a lot of production setup there, a lot of wonderful theatres and a lot of commercial opportunities. That is at the root of why my resume is so all over the map.
Ashleigh: I think it’s fantastic. When did you get your start in the performing arts?
Anand: I did plays and musicals in high school and sang in choirs, but I didn’t really know that theatre was specifically going to be my career. I started out training as a singer and I was studying classical voice. At some point, I just kind of shifted over, I got a job in a play and realized that it was for me and went wholeheartedly down that path.
Ashleigh: I love talking to long term theater kids. Once a theatre kid, always a theatre kid. Here at The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory, we are full of them, including myself. We have a Conservatory here where we offer classes to a variety of age groups, little babies to adults. I think it’s nice for all our students to have that opportunity to see touring Broadway like Aladdin, I know a lot of students are really excited for the arrival of Aladdin, March 15 – 19, and I believe they were going to have a get together or a movie night to prepare for the arrival. Do you have any advice for our Conservatory students while they’re navigating the performing arts field?
Anand: Yeah, what age range are they?
Ashleigh: We have some classes for very young children, so they might not be ready for that advice yet, but we do have elementary school, middle school, high school and adults. We’re teaching acting classes and we’re teaching technical theatre. Everyone likes to take a variety of classes, they will take dance and will take tech, so they know how everything works. I don’t know if that changes your answer because it’s so broad, but I would love to hear what you have to say.
Try to curate interests and stay engaged in as broad of a range of life experiences as you can because I think that that is the most helpful thing for you to develop and to find out what is important to you as an artist.Anand Nagraj
Anand: Study as many different things as you can, play a sport, do lots of different stuff because as an artist you draw from your own life experiences and the more life that you’ve lived in, the more things that you’ve seen, the better off you are.
Ashleigh: What tools in your pocket do you think helped you secure the role of Jafar?
Anand: As I mentioned earlier, I started out as a voice student. That’s what my undergrad degree is in, and I haven’t really thought about it a lot, about how much I use that every day, but having studied that early on, I think, not just this show, but a lot of my career, I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t done that training early on and started that exploration of my voice. That was probably the most formative. Like I said, I hadn’t thought deeply about it in a long time until I started working on this, and I was like “Wow, I wouldn’t be able to do all the screaming and big evil laughs and do the big songs that I have to sing If I hadn’t started studying that when I was a teenager.”
Ashleigh: It all it all builds upon itself, right?
Anand: Yes. Full Circle.
Ashleigh: Full circle moment. Just like this, this full circle moment of me watching that watching the film to working here to seeing the show to talking to you. It’s all part of that. That “Circle of Life,” different show but at least it’s within the same family. Let’s circle back to the show, I’m curious what your favorite part of the show is. It doesn’t have to be something that you’re particularly in, but what’s the part that you really like to soak up and enjoy during the show?
Anand: It’s funny because all my favorite stuff is stuff that I’m not in. I think that’s one of the privileges of this role, I get to sit in the wings and watch so much incredible stuff. I mentioned “Proud of your Boy” earlier, but there’s also a song in the second act called “High Adventure” that is so funny and so well sung. I’ll spoil a little bit, there’s a lot of swordplay and it’s just exciting. It’s all those things all at once. One other thing is I’m just in constant awe of the work that our ensemble does throughout because they really are making the show happen in a lot of ways throughout the whole piece. They are doing so much and it is different stuff every night, but I’m just blown away by what they’re able to do on stage, it’s amazing.
Ashleigh: There are a lot of magical technical tricks happening throughout the show and it takes such a strong team to pull that off every single night on a national tour. I can’t say kudos enough. It is incredible. It is an excellent team. I think that everyone is going to enjoy this show and I know the response on social has been incredible. While we’re talking about this, it’s the holiday season, if you have a wish, or two or three and you would love to see Aladdin, we have some great seats that are still available at TheHanoverTheatre.org. You do not want to miss this and you don’t want to be bamboozled by any third-party resellers because we want you to have the best experience possible. Now, Anand, do you have any parting words for our audiences today before we head out for a magical weekend?
Anand: I can’t wait to see you all at The Hanover Theatre, the show is such a great night out for anybody and everybody. You’ll have a wonderful time, and I can’t wait to be there with you.
Ashleigh: Yeah, of course, not to mention that tickets start at just $28. I think we are trying to make the arts accessible and fun for everyone, I think that this is a great option. It’s great for the whole family, young and old. I highly recommend as someone who just saw it this year. Thank you so much for joining us today, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. I can’t wait to connect with you once you’re here in person, March 15 – 19, but for now, I will say goodbye and happy holidays from all of us at The Hanover Theatre.
Anand: Oh, happy holidays. Thank you so much, Ashleigh. I looking forward to seeing everybody soon.
Ashleigh: Alright! We’ll see everyone else next week on Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre.