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Disney's Aladdin - Interview with Yeukayi Ushe

Yeukayi Ushe plays the Genie in Disney's Aladdin which comes to Milton Keynes Theatre this April.

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

They can expect a night of Broadway-style glitz, glamor and magic with true heart. I've only been working with this company for a short while and the dedication of everybody involved is going to ensure that this production is a magical night that you are not going to forget in a hurry.


How would you sum up the character of Genie? And can you relate to him in any way?

He's this magical being who is full of sunshine, wit, energy and vibrance. I can only hope to live up to the massive list of incredible people who have played the role before me and he's like nobody I've ever played before myself. He is just so full of energy, so front-footed and so much fun. Hopefully I can relate to his sunshine and warmth. When I enter a room, I try to be that person who people can come up to and talk to. He's like your best friend really and the kind of person who will help you come rain or shine. [Laughs] Obviously I'm not an immortal magical being who lives in a lamp inside a cave but I try to live my life with those values.


What attracted you to the show?

Genie is a character where you have all of this creative license, all of this comedy and all of these iconic songs that he gets to sing. Having played Simba in The Lion King, to get to play another iconic Disney character is amazing. There is no way that I was going to pass up this opportunity.


Does it pose any challenges for you?

There are challenges in the different dance styles, in the different vocal styles and in the homage to the icons of Broadway. There's so much to dedicate yourself to and to lend yourself to, and from working with everybody so far they are all lending themselves to the challenge too. It's hard, but hey, Broadway's hard!


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

The movie came out in 1992 and I'm not gonna give away my age but I watched it when I was younger. I'm a massive Disney fan, so I've watched it a fair few times since. Before I knew it was Robin Williams in the movie I was like 'Is this really just one actor voicing this character?' I was inspired by his performance and then you've got the underdog story of Aladdin as well. It made me think that I can be anything, I can shape shift and do whatever I want. And then the music. My God, the music!


Speaking of the music, what's your favourite song in the show and why?

That's a really difficult question because the score is beautiful. Prince Ali is great and so full of life but I would have to say my favourite has to be Friend Like Me. In that number you get treated to all of the magic, all of the glitz, all of the glamor, all of the abundance, and the song builds and builds and builds.


What makes the story relatable to today's audiences?

In terms of representation, with the company and the cast that we have there is somebody on stage that everybody can look at and feel like 'that could be me'. Then in terms of the story itself, it's about three main characters -  Genie, Aladdin and Jasmine - who are all trying to escape the circumstances of their birth. All of them feel trapped and casting our minds back to lockdown, we were all trying to escape in some way, right? The show allows you to dream and it gives you this sense of hope, this sense that anything is possible. It's a tale that fills you with inspiration, hope, and magic.


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

I would wish for the ability to eat anything that I wanted with the proviso that wouldn't gain any weight. I would wish to be able to travel to so many beautiful places across the world without having to queue up and get on a flight; I'd just click my fingers and I'm there. And then lastly, I would wish for my family and my friends to be comfortable and happy.


What lead you into a showbusiness career?

It was actually because of Robin Williams. His performances in Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin inspired me from such a young age because there were no limitations to his voice, his comedy and the characters he played. I also watched a lot of Disney animation growing up, [laughs] which was probably a good way to keep us quiet but it made me want to do this career and I'm so glad that I've landed where I am now.


You've done lots of stage work. What have been your favourite roles to date?

I would say that Kinky Boots was one of my absolute favourites. I loved playing Lola, going up and down the UK, giving people that sense of escapism but also spreading the message of 'Just be who you wanna be'. This show [Aladdin] is very similar. It says you can be who you want to be. You don't have to just accept the circumstances you were born into. It's wonderful that I get to take these stories - with these characters who are larger than life but who are also very human at the heart of it - up and down the country.


When were you last on tour and what are you most looking forward to about getting back out there?

The last time was with Kinky Boots and I'm really looking forward to reconnecting with the crowds that I connected with on the tour circuit, going to all the coffee shops that I frequented and seeing new places that I otherwise maybe wouldn't travel to which have loads of hidden gems. The UK is incredible, Ireland is incredible, and there's so much that these cities have to give that I don't get to see all that often. Ir's amazing that a Disney musical is taking me to these corners of the country.


Are there any stops on the top that are dear to your heart?

I love Edinburgh, the people, the buildings, the shops, everything. Cardiff bay is beautiful. In Plymouth you come out of the stage door, walk ten minutes and you're overlooking the ocean. What more could you ask for? In Sunderland you're not far from Rocker Beach. Milton Keynes is close to London so a lot of my London crowd and my London-based family will be coming along. Manchester has an incredible buzz about it, as does Bristol. Bradford has a special place in my heart because I was there when I got the news that I'd be playing Simba in The Lion King. The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton is gorgeous. I love the shopping in Birmingham and team at the Hippodrome are wonderful. Glasgow is great and the last time I was there I thought 'I could live here'. I used to support Liverpool but then I got too busy to focus on football. Liverpool has also always had a place in my heart because it was one of the first tour stops when I was working on Avenue Q way back when.

Make a wish and buy your ticket for a spectacular like no other. Tickets available here.


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