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Disney's Aladdin - Interview with Desmonda Cathabel

Desmonda Cathabel plays Princess Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin which is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre in April.


 What are audiences in store for when they come see Aladdin?

They can expect magic, romance, amazing choreography and dancing, and of course the famous songs from the Disney film as well as some new ones.


How would you sum up the character of Jasmine and do you have anything in common with her?

She is fierce, she knows what she wants, she won't settle for less and she's very sure of herself, which I really like. Jasmine is very strong-willed and, as I say, she goes for what she wants for herself, and I think I'm the same. Once I know what I want and what I need to do to get it, I'll just try my best to go for it. Like me, she is relentless in a very good way.


What attracted you to the show and the role?

I feel like I'm very lucky to even to be in the show because I'm playing a very iconic character in a very iconic musical. Everyone knows the story of Aladdin and Disney's Aladdin especially. It is a part of everyone's childhood growing up. It's such an amazing piece of pop culture and I'm really happy to be a part of it.


Does it pose any challenges for you?

Again Jasmine is such an iconic character in an iconic musical. She's someone everyone knows and loves and I really need to do her justice - to embody her and really capture her as this character that everyone knows in their minds and their hearts.


Can you recall when you first saw Aladdin and what effect did it have on you?

I saw the Disney movie during my childhood, along with the other movies featuring the renaissance of Disney Princesses like The Little Mermaid. I remember that Aladdin really stuck with me because it's so funny, especially Robin Williams as Genie. He's just so funny and smart and witty, and the film is so magical. Even though I didn't really know it at the time, Lea Salonga as Princess Jasmine singing A Whole New World was so meaningful. The fact that she is a Southeast Asian musical theatre actress adds another layer of empowerment. I am seeing someone where it's like 'Oh my gosh, she's also Southeast Asian and she is voicing this Disney princess'. That really makes me happy.


What's your favourite song in the show and why?

I'm a little bit biased but I really like These Palace Walls, which is Jasmine's big song in the first act. It's not in the movie but it is a really important addition to the musical because it expands on her character. I think the song is fierce. It's thrilling, it lifts people up and I just love singing it.


What makes the story relatable to today's audiences?

First of all, the jokes are all so current still. It's such a funny show that changes with the times and in that way it's timeless. Then there's the message of the show, which will always be relevant. People will always connect to it because of the underdog story and the message of being true to yourself and being honest. The idea that things will come to you when you are true to yourself is a universal message that will always be current.


If you could be granted three wishes, what would they be?

Firstly, I would like an unlimited coffee to just appear in front of me whenever I want it. Then I really want to be able to have the ability to teleport, so I can be at rehearsals, then in my bedroom or in a restaurant or back home in Indonesia in the blink of an eye. Maybe a magic carpet is kind of close to that but I want it even faster. Then for my third wish, I'd like free tickets to see all live theatre from the past, in the future and current ones all over the world. I want to see everything!


What lead you into a showbusiness career?

I didn't grow up with musical theatre and I only discovered it later. The first time I started performing was in an amateur production in my first year at university. I'd never thought of actually having this as a career because it's really not a thing in Indonesia. Going 'Oh, I'm a musical theatre actress' in Indonesia just wouldn't happen, so I didn't really think it was something that I could pursue professionally. After years of doing a lot of community theater, a lot of random professional gigs here and there alongside my corporate job back in Indonesia, I thought 'I just have to decide now, while I'm still in my 20s, if I want to risk it and try to going into musical theatre or showbiz and performing right now'. I told myself 'If I fail then it's fine. I still have time to go back to my old job but if I don't try it now I won't have time to try again in the future'. That's the reason why I moved to London two years ago, because I got a scholarship to train at the Royal Academy of Music's Musical Theatre department, and that was gateway to my career over here.


What have been your career highlights prior to this?

I did Miss Saigon in Sheffield at the Crucible Theatre. We did the first ever reimagined version and it was amazing and really special. I was a big fan of Miss Saigon for such a long time but it was even more special because we were part of the creative process. We were not just doing the same version that has been done since it premiered in 1989. I was an alternate in that show and I got to play Kim a couple of times, and the role and the show ticked all my boxes as an actor.


This is your first UK tour. What are you most looking forward to about taking Aladdin around the country?

I'm really excited to see all the towns and cities because I haven't travelled around the UK that much. I've only been here two years and I haven't had the chance to visit many places. I've been to Edinburgh and Manchester but only for like a day or two. I'm excited that we will be staying for a couple of weeks in each venue so I can do some exploring. It's very specific but I'm especially excited to try out all the new coffee shops.

Make your wishes come true. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket! (Or you could buy one here).


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