SCHENECTADY – At 5 years old, Senzel Ahmady persuaded her parents to name her younger sister Jasmine, after the fierce and independent princess in the Disney animated film “Aladdin.”
Fifteen years later, she’s portraying the princess in the touring Broadway musical adaptation, set to open at Proctors on Tuesday.
“Aladdin’ was my movie when I was growing up,” Ahmady remembers.
The Bay Area, California native was raised in a musical family and went on to study vocal performance and musical theater at New York University. At the age of 20, she’s taking a leave of absence from her studies and joining the North American Tour of Disney’s “Aladdin,” which is launching from Proctors.
The Broadway show is adapted from the animated Disney film and centuries-old folktales including “One Thousand and One Nights,” and follows a poor young man who is granted three wishes by a genie in a lamp, which he uses to woo a princess and thwart the sultan’s evil Grand Vizier.
It features several songs from the film’s soundtrack and more written for the stage. It opened on Broadway in 2014 and broke 14 New Amsterdam Theatre house records.
When Ahmady auditioned for the role of Jasmine earlier this year, she didn’t expect to land it.
“Honestly, I thought that I was too young to play Jasmine because a lot of the other Jasmines who have been in the show have been a lot older than me,” Ahmady said. “I looked at [the audition] as a good experience for me to learn how to start auditioning . . . and this is a dream role of mine.”
Since getting the part, she’s been working on making the role her own and living up to the character she’s long admired.
“With Jasmine, I just don’t want to fall into the trap of making her too sweet and demure. I want her to be this girl that other people can watch on stage and just be like ‘She’s fighting for what she wants and she’s not just any other Disney princess,’” Ahmady said.
Jasmine has more agency in the musical than in the film, she added.
“I liked what they did with Jasmine in this musical because they gave her more of a voice,” Ahmady said. “They gave her her song ‘These Palace Walls,’ which is just about her getting out and doing what she finally wants to do and using her voice.”
Ahmady and the rest of the cast, including Adi Roy, who plays the titular role, and Marcus M. Martin, who plays the Genie, have been in Schenectady for nearly a week in technical rehearsals. Crew members arrived several weeks ago to get the set ready.
“This set is just huge and it’s an explosion of color,” Ahmady said. “When you guys sit down and you watch our opening number ‘Arabian Nights,’ you just see this explosion of vibrant colors and dancing. You sit down and you feel like you’re in Agrabah.”
Along with the opulence seen in the set pieces and costumes, it’s a high-energy show, which has certainly been a test of stamina for the actors.
“It’s a very energetic show . . . So to get to that place physically, there’s a lot of training that you have to do,” Roy said.
Luckily, he has an energetic co-star in Martin.
“It’s been great having to play off Marcus because he gives me so much energy. I can just take that in and just bounce it back,” Roy said.
Martin has a marathon of his own to run in the scenes surrounding the beloved tune “Friend Like Me.”
“The scene before ‘Friend Like Me,’ the song ‘Friend Like Me,’ and the scene after ‘Friend Like Me’ is all 10 to 11 minutes. I’m doing 99% of the talking and the singing and I’m tap dancing,” Martin said. “I found out that I got this role in March, so I spent a lot of the summer building up that stamina. I was singing on the treadmill and talking on the treadmill. [I’ve been] doing a lot of stamina-building over the last couple of months to get ready for this marathon.”
Martin is also working on bringing more joy to the production through Genie.
“For me, it’s all about the joy, especially after the two or three years that we’ve had as a people, what we need is joy,” Martin said. “The Genie [is] a catalyst for joy and even in the moments when Aladdin is going through hardships and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, what his fate is going to be, me coming in and bringing that joy to the audience and that joy to Aladdin is really important to me.”
The North American touring production, which has stops scheduled well into next summer, differs slightly from the Broadway version.
“Since we are a reimagined tour, there have been a few slight lyric changes,” Ahmady said. “We’ve had to choreograph some numbers differently but it still has all the same magic and fun that the Broadway version has.”
In Ahmady’s view, the show, just like all good musical theater experiences, also offers an escape.
“You can just walk into the theater and sit down and forget about everything that’s going on in your life and just be somewhere else for two and a half hours,” Ahmady said.
It opens on Tuesday and is set to run through Sunday, Oct. 23 at Proctors.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23. There will be a 1:30 p.m. matinee on Thursday, Oct. 20.
MORE INFO: proctors.org