Hello M.E. readers, today I have a special post.
Days before the final bow of Aladdin A Musical Spectacular at Disney California Adventure, I had the opportunity to attend a "Friends and Family" event, as well as the Final Performance on January 10, 2016. And it was all due to a very special friend.
As of this post, it has been almost two weeks since Aladdin A Musical Spectacular performed at the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure and I am sitting here with my good friend, David Aldrete, who played one of the Sultans for Aladdin A Musical Spectacular
MintCrocodile: Thank you for joining me today to talk about your experience working in Aladdin A Musical Spectacular.
David Aldrete : It's good to be here. Thanks for having me and having me do this interview. When you mentioned about doing an interview of me for your blog, it took me by surprise. After all, you pretty much do pictures on your site.
MC : Well, yes, that is true. But with Aladdin A Musical Spectacular being replace with Frozen, I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about yourself and your experience with Aladdin A Musical Spectacular show
MC : So, David, what made you audition for Aladdin A Musical Spectacular at Disney California Adventure?
DA : My best friend, who I have known for more than 30 years, was already in the show, playing one of the Narrator / Sultan. He told me about auditions and suggested that I come out and audition.
MC : Is working for Disney something you have wanted to do?
DA : Ever since I was a child, I would attend Disneyland during the summer months, I have always wanted to be a Disney Cast Member one way or another for quite some time. But as with life occurrences, things in my life took priority. But in the back of my mind, I would often think about how fun it might be to work for Disney. Skip ahead a number of years and I was mentioned about the auditions for Aladdin A Musical Spectacular by my good friend, I didn't want to pass up this opportunity. So I called, made an appointment, and started to prepare.
When you go to an audition, you go for a specific role. I knew the principle roles were up for grabs. Out of those characters, I knew I was the perfect fit for Narrator / Sultan, both physically and characteristically.
MC : As I was getting prepared for this interview, I was listening to the Aladdin A Musical Spectacular soundtrack that Disney California Adventure released back when the musical debuted in 2003. And the first track had the narrator portrayed by a female. Why is that?
DA : That I don't know exactly why. I believe that changed a couple of years after the musical debuted. And after a couple of years, they gave that role to the person playing the Sultan. And they only used females in that role as swings. Swings are, for the most part, fillers. For the 2015 contract, they stopped using females as narrators entirely and just combined the Narrator with the Sultan. There were, in fact, two girls left from the original narrator casting. When they used the females as the Narrator, during the curtain call, the Narrator would come out from one end of the stage and the the Sultan, along with the Palace Guards, would come out from the other side and meet in the middle to take their bow.
MC : I am sure that when auditioning for a musical, one would have or need experience in that field. How long have you been in theater?
DA : Oh! I have been acting since I was in high school. I have been in both professional and community theater. And I have been singing since I was a young boy.
MC : Wow! So you definitely have the experience on your side.
MC : Your work day at Disney must have been crazy.
DA : Well, not exactly. Things that I would do at the Hyperion Theater were things that I had done before. Of course, each theater does it differently, but overall it's pretty much the same. I can tell you though, the one thing that IS different between Disney and other theaters that I have performed at, is that I don't have to park in a satellite parking lot and then get shuttled in.
MC : Oh yes, the whole off site parking the Cast Members of the Disneyland Resort must face each and ever work day.
DA : Yes. But pretty much once I get to the Hyperion Theater, I would check the show assignments for the day to find out what show(s) I would be performing in. Then, a company meeting to discuss any special events for the day or any important information that needs to be addressed. We would do 15 minutes of physical warm ups and 15 minutes of vocal warm ups. And then we would all move to the stage and do mic and sound check. That would brings us to about 30 min before show time where we would check our costumes and make up. After everything is set and done, it's time to perform.
MC : The Hyperion Theater typically had 4 shows playing every day. But every now and then during peak seasons, Disney would add another show to the line up. When you performed, did you all of them?
DA : It would depend on the day. Principle roles were doubled. That meant that there were two Aladdins, two Jasmines, etc, in the theater ever day. My character, although called a Principle Role, didn't require two of us to be there. More often than not, they would schedule another Narrator / Sultan so we would get burned out. And so most of the time, when there were two Narrator / Sultans scheduled, I would get to be swung out at least one show a day.
MC : How long have you been doing Aladdin A Musical Spectacular?
DA : Just under 4 years.
MC : What was your experience like working in Aladdin A Musical Spectacular?
DA : One word - Amazing! It was such a dynamic production and at times, it was hard to believe I was a part of it. I got along with the other performers and we became sort of a family, an Aladdin Family. There is a bond that takes place when you work with people on stage. You share so much emotion and put so much of yourself out there that it helps to create a bond that you become more than just coworkers. You become family.
MC : Performing and memorizing lines, especially for a musical looks like it would be difficult. I mean, could I do something like that? Probably. But my mind is always going a mile a minute and I tend to stumble on my words. How are you able to deal with it?
DA : Well, I have been doing it for quiet some time. And over time, well, for me anyways, I just trained my way of thinking. And the more times you go over the lines, it starts to get embedded in your brain. The whole process of performing and memorizing lines can come easier to some than to other. Everyone is different in how they approach and deal with it.
Now, that doesn't mean it's a perfect show every time. There have been a few blunders here and there. And now with today's technology of smart phones and websites like YouTube, sometimes these blunders can make it on the internet for everyone to see. A lot of them may get over looked by the general public because it may be their first time or they only see the show here and there, so they won't pick up on these blunders.
MC : I have watched you perform a number of times and from what I can recall, every show seems to be the same. I didn't notice anyone miss a line or anything. Have you ever made a blunder?
DA : Yes. There was a time when I was suppose to deliver a line "Your genie isn't the only one facing a brand new future..." But for some reason, what came out of my mouth was, "Your genie isn't the only one facing the great unknown". Aladdin and Jasmine just looked at me and had this confused look of "What?" But like any professional actor, they just carried on as though nothing happened. You can't break character.
MC : Now, I want to discuss something that you may get a little upset about. It's about Frozen taking over the Hyperion Theater. How did you feel when you found out that Aladdin A Musical Spectacular was going to end its run at the Hyperion Theater?
DA : Well, let me just say, it took me by surprise. Between Spring and Summer, rumor had it that a new production would be heading into the Hyperion Theater. But it was hard to believe seeing that Aladdin was consistently the number one attraction at the Disneyland Resort, based off of Guests surveys.
Working at Disney, nothing is air tight. Rumors are always happening, whether they are true or not. People like to talk. I mean, Tangled was rumored to be going into the Hyperion Theater shortly after I was hired in. But with this latest rumer, Cast and Crew started to speculate what this new production would be. At the time, Frozen was still a hot commodity and the Parks were still riding the wave of its popularity. Everywhere you looked, it was Frozen this and Frozen that. So easily, the first thing cast and crew thought of was Frozen musical. Unfortunately, the rumor turned out to be true, when in July in 2015, word officially came to us that Aladdin would closing forever on Jan 10, 2016, finishing off the Holiday season. As a rumor, it was hard to imagine they would close Aladdin, a popular show that many Guests enjoyed watching.
Theater attendance was not down, there were practically full houses every performance. So when the actual word came down in July, it was like hearing the news of someones death. It was hard to believe it was happening. Aladdin became such a staple for Disney California Adventure, it was hard to imagine that one day it would not be there.
MC : Aladdin did last for almost 13 years. That's a pretty long tine for a theater show. Do you think it was time for it leave and have something else come in?
DA : Not if you look at its attendance record. Now, in a normal theater, when ticket sales and attendance go down, it's time to move to a new production. I don't have actual numbers, but from what I can say, we were playing to packed houses. Even with 4 show playing, Guests were willing to take time out of their day from riding rides to sit for about 45 minutes and watch Aladdin. And so it was hard to imagine why they would make the change.
MC : Other productions at the Disneyland Resort have come and gone. Some haven't even lasted as long as Aladdin. The Fantasyland theater hosted such productions as The Spirit of Pocahontas, Animazement, and Snow White An Enchanting Musical.
DA : Correct, but there was something magical about the Aladdin production. And I think it lies on the role of the Genie and the fact that he was able to adlib and bring in current affairs and pop culture in to the production. So while the story of Aladdin didn't change, the freshness of the genie made the show relevant.
MC : How do you feel about change?
DA : Change is always good, but not always easy. And not everyone is always comfortable with change. But in the theater world, to be in a production that ran for 13 years, in an Theme Park, is very unusual.
MC : Now let's talk about your last day performance, which took place on Jan 8, 2016.
DA : With the show coming to a close, Disney management added two unannounced special shows, just for invited family and guests. I had the honor of being asked to be in one of the two "Family and Friends" shows.
It was different than performing in a regular Aladdin show because I knew this was going to be the last time I was going to play the role of the Narrator / Sultan. What made the final show so thrilling was knowing that I had love and support from my family and friends in the audience. And more so for you Mister, who would try and make it to my last performance of the day and surprise me. But back to what we were talking about. When the curtain came down, it was very emotional. Cast and crew hugged and congratulated me as well as each other. It was sad knowing that I would never put the Sultan's turban on again. But also, thrilling to know that, for one last time, the people I cared about got to see me perform. And that's what was important to me that day.
MC : Which did you like playing the most? The Narrator or the Sultan?
DA : This may come as a surprise to you. But I loved playing the Narrator. The Narrator is a storyteller. He has come across you (the audience) in a desolate place. seeing where you are headed, he decides to help pass the time and tell you a story. This whole production of Aladdin, the Genie, Jasmine, and Jafar is what the narrartor is conveying to you. When he throws up the glitter, he is magically transporting you back to the tale of the magic lamp. It's like sitting around a camp fire, and telling stories to one another.
MC : We spoke about your last performance as the Narrator / Sultan. Let's talk about the last day performance. January 10, 2016.
DA : Let me just say, when it came to the final performance, we weren't sure if there was going to be anything special done for us. There had been talks, but nothing set in stone.
Several weeks prior, those who were not performing that day, and were interested in watching watching the final performance of Aladdin, were only allowed to put just their name down on a list. Every show had a "VIP Guest" list. And that list consisted of Guests who the Cast and Crew invited for a particular show. They did the typical "VIP Guest" list, but that was to be separate from our Cast list. The VIP Guest list was allowed, but at the time, it wasn't guaranteed if they were going to be allowed. Upper management knew the final show was going to be in heavy demand. So they didn't want to say "Yes" to anything until they knew it was safe to do so.
It wasn't until the beginning of the final week, when upper management approved both performers list and the Guest list. I knew this show was going to be completely different than any other Aladdin show I had seen. The energy was electric, emotions were real, the excitement in the audience was unbelievable. It truly was an amazing experience I would never forget. Before the final show, they had all current Cast and Crew enter the Hyperion Theater first so they could get to their reserved seats. When the choreographer and director came out, that's when it hit me that this was it. This was the last show.
MC : Now that Aladdin A Musical Spectacular has ended its run, what are you doing now?
DA : Well, let's see, I will be stepping away from the stage for a while and I am going to be putting my focus on other projects that I have been working on. Because I wasn't performing daily at the Hyperion Theater, I did find other jobs to fill my time. I did end up getting back into an area of work that had been a part of my life in my early years. And that is working in the food and beverage industry. That has actually led me to working at another competitive theme park.
Am I happy where I am, yes. And a lot of my team members who I work with, they know of my Disney work and have come to call me Sultan. Instead of saying my name in conversation, they just say "Sultan" and people know exactly who they are talking about. So that's a good feeling. In that way, the Sultan still lives on. Aside from my work in the food and beverage industry, I am also a choir director at my church and i'll be focusing a portion of my creative energy on that.
MC : Are you still employed with the Walt Disney Company? Or did your contract end when Aladdin ended?
DA : I am still technically employed by the Walt Disney Company for at least 6 month.
MC : Are you going to try out for any other roles at the Resort?
DA : I would like to stick with Disney as long as I can. I have had a great time working there for the past 4 years. I would hate to give it up entirely. Who knows what the future will bring. Where I am now, in the position that I have, there's a lot of great things happening. It would be hard to give that up too.
MC : It would be great if you could still work for Disney. I have always thought you'd be a perfect Officer Calvin Blue. You know, one of the residents of Buena Vista Street.
MC : I don't know his routine, but I am sure you would easily be able to pull it off
DA : Well, we will just have to take it one day at a time. And hope for the best
DA : Can I just say, that when you asked me to do this, I was very honored. Thank you for that. Taking a full time job outside of Disney was a very difficult decision because I know I'd have to give up a lot of my artistic outlets. It was hard to get back into life outside of the theater. Knowing that the show has closed, it's like what I had mentioned before, the death of a friend or family member. You know you have these wonderful memories, but can never go back.
That will conclude this interview.
Thanks for stopping by and checking it out.
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Until Next Time...