When Winnipeg-raised theatre performer Jaz Sealey went to audition for the upcoming Disney stage musical Aladdin, he looked to an unlikely source for inspiration.
'For the stage version, I think the audience wants to see a young man face this challenge of, 'What do I want to do with my life: Do I commit to something, am I a wastrel, who am I going to become?' - Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group
"For the callback I was reading for the role of Kassim, who is one of Aladdin's three friends, which are new characters to the show that weren't in the original movie," says the Toronto native, the lone Canadian cast member who is in the ensemble and a Kassim understudy.
"And I thought of the group of Aladdin and his three friends as the guys from the TV show 'Entourage.' Kassim, I thought, was very much like Johnny Drama from the show, so I tried to play him just like the tough guy, which is what his characteristics are in the show."
Such is the fresh, contemporary and more mature feel the new production will offer when it makes its world premiere next month at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre. Performances begin Nov. 1 and opening night is Nov. 21. It will then move to Broadway.
Instead of the lead teen characters Aladdin fans came to love with the smash 1992 animated film that won Oscars for best original song (A Whole New World) and best original score, the stage version finds the eponymous wish-maker and love interest Princess Jasmine as young adults.
"It's a little bit more sophisticated, it's a little bit more complex a relationship," says Adam Jacobs, who plays Aladdin. "There's some flirting, it's a little bit sexier."
Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Group, says the age change was made to help audience members "commit to someone who's actually got a life going on and has stakes that matter."
"For the stage version, I think the audience wants to see a young man face this challenge of, 'What do I want to do with my life: Do I commit to something, am I a wastrel, who am I going to become?"
The genie is also different.
Instead of the shapeshifter Robin Williams voiced in the film, the new show harkens back to late composer Howard Ashman's original idea of the wish-granting comic relief as a big-band jazz-style showman in the vein of Cab Calloway or Fats Waller.
James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the genie, stresses the show is not just for kids.
"This is an older thing," he says. "This isn't two teenagers going, 'Oh, do you like me? Mark "yes" or "no."' No, these are real people and I think that's what people need to understand.
"This is also a date show. Any man worth his salt can bring his lady to the show and it's a smart move: Dinner, Aladdin, 'bam!"
The stage show also returns to Ashman's original idea that the story — based on a Middle Eastern folk tale of a street kid who has a genie-holding lamp lusted after by an evil sultan's adviser — be a classic musical comedy.
And it has new songs and new scenarios.
"In the movie, Jafar disguises himself as a prisoner and he springs Aladdin from the prison to take him to the Cave of Wonders," explains Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the villainous Jafar for the film and plays the same role in the new stage version.
"In this, Jafar disguises himself as Aladdin's uncle to coerce him to go with him to the Cave of Wonders to go into the cave to get the lamp."
Aladdin features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs.
The set includes rotating buildings and the wardrobe includes elaborate costumes loaded with beads and jewels.
"There's 100 more costumes in this show than Mary Poppins had," says Sealey. "I heard a rumour that there are 347 people sewing and building these costumes all around the world."
There's also a bit of Disney magic, with the genie in the lamp and the flying carpet Aladdin and Jasmine use to get around Agrabah.
When it comes to creative input, Sealey says they couldn't have wished for any better, noting they're helping shape a show and characters from the ground-up.
"You really have the chance to create, on the fly, in the room," he says. "Whatever choice you want to make could be that choice for that character for the next 20 years whenever anybody plays the role.
"It might be written into the script that you lift up your right foot at this time and now that's part of how the show is done, so it's quite a cool experience to be doing that."