"I just wanted to sing... and I very much went with what everyone else told me I should be
Jade Ewen will take to the West End stage for Disney's Aladdin later this month - and it sounds like she was always destined to play Princess Jasmine.
Ewen told Digital Spy that Disney's animated films have "always been a massive part of the reason" why she performs.
"It was sort of my introduction to musical theatre," she explained. "My mum would always buy me and my sister the VHS - every year we'd get a new Disney film.
"My very first movie that I learnt the songs to was The Little Mermaid - but my favourite was Aladdin, because Jasmine was the first Princess I saw and thought, 'Oh my gosh, she looks like me!'
"But I never ever dreamed that I would be playing her - and I remember when I heard about the audition for it, I was too scared to allow myself to get excited about the possibility... because it's so, so tough.
"Just to book a leading lady role… it's not an easy thing to do. So when they told me I'd got it, I screamed. I screamed and screamed and I couldn't believe it. And then I had to keep it a secret… I couldn't tell anyone!"
The 28-year-old first came into the public eye as a Eurovision hopeful - finishing fifth in 2009 - and was a member of Sugababes from 2009 to 2011. But Jade told DS that she now feels like "a different person" to the one who found fame in a girl group.
"I just wanted to sing but I didn't really have a sense of self and I very much went with what everyone else told me I should be doing," she said.
"You need to feel happy and fulfilled and you need to sleep well every night. Since being back on stage, it's really made me appreciate that this is what I was supposed to do.
"The fame stuff should always be a byproduct. But when that - and all the propaganda and the gossipy stuff - is the focus, and the performance thing is secondary? It kind of feels, to me, pointless. I don't get enjoyment out of that.
"I feel really happy doing press now, because I'm doing something that I'm really excited about. I'm happy to sit and do interviews, and I'm relaxed. You feel smiley and proud and positive. It's a really nice feeling."
She's since won rave reviews for her musical theatre work - including the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre production of Porgy and Bess, and In The Heights on the West End.
But Jade - who stars opposite Dean John-Wilson in Aladdin - is reluctant to ever rule out a pop music comeback.
"If music comes back up in the future, I'm going to do it and I'm going to commit to it 100%. I will never say I'm not going to do that again, because I've learned quite quickly that nothing ever goes to plan!"
See Jade Ewen in Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre, London, with previews from Friday, May 27.
Aladdin the musical is opening at the Prince Edward Theatre on Wednesday
Olivier-winning productions of Beauty And The Beast and Mary Poppins have graced the capital over the decades while The Lion King celebrates its 17th triumphant year. Now, after two years on the Broadway stage, Aladdin has travelled to London, bringing to life the magic of one of Disney’s stories.Opening at the Prince Edward Theatre on Wednesday, the production welcomes a talented cast including Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin, Jade Ewen as Jasmine and Trevor Dion Nicholas, who’s making his London stage debut as the Genie. The musical has been nurtured by an outstanding creative team, boasting a collective 20 Grammy awards, 19 Tony awards and 13 Oscars.
Behind the scenes, there’s a buzz in the air. Paint glistens onstage, lights shine from the rafters and the chorus line is put through its paces. My visit comes just three weeks before the opening night and excitement runs thick through the bustling corridors of this historic theatre. I’m here to visit the leading lady, former Sugababes star Jade Ewen, who is preparing for another day in character as Aladdin’s greatest wish, Princess Jasmine.
The pop star and West End actress invites me into her dressing room, aptly furnished with a taste of Arabia. An elephant candle sits on the sideboard, a flurry of Jasmine Post-Its lie beside the fridge and glittering tiaras sparkle on the shelves. “This one’s my favourite,” says Jade, pointing to a beautiful pink crystal crown. “This is what Jasmine wears on her wedding day.”
The tiara matches perfectly with the blush- pink bridal outfit, which was sent to India to be adorned with clusters of beads and crystals.
Jade has just three outfits to wear during the performance, including the classic turquoise costume, a cloaked disguise for the market place and the eye-catching wedding outfit for the finale. She is grateful for her small wardrobe, which means she’ll avoid any frenzied costume changes in the wings. “There’s a 19-second costume change for one of the boys in the song Friend Like Me. It can get frantic,” she warns.
A total of 337 costumes will grace the stage in each performance, which lasts two hours and 30 minutes, with 108 changes taking place in less than a minute, 58 in less than 30 seconds and three in less than a second. Audiences will be dazzled by a staggering 712 styles of beads and 1,225 different fabrics. Keep your eyes peeled during Friend Like Me to see a pair of men’s trousers featuring 1,428 Swarovski crystals.
With so many beads, crystals and lengths of material, there’s always a risk of things not going to plan. “I have great respect for the wardrobe department. We have a disaster from time to time. One actor tore his trousers and the beads scattered everywhere,” Jade says.
DEEN VAN MEER • WENN Aladdin welcomes a talented cast including Dean John-Wilson as Aladdin and Jade Ewen as Jasmine
Rehearsals take place from Monday to Saturday for 10 hours a day, running each scene in full costume while lights and sound work their technical magic. “It makes a massive difference when we put on the costumes. We all practise in tracksuits and trainers, so when it comes to the dress rehearsals, our characters come alive.”
Jade has the challenging task of riding the infamous flying carpet, which rises up above the stage as if carried by the clouds. “When I’m up high on a wobbly carpet, my stomach muscles are really working,” she admits. “It’s not easy to sing, balance and look like you’re in love.”
We’re all keen to know the secret behind the floating wonder, but Jade’s lips are sealed. “I can’t tell you how it works. It’s magic,” she says.
The cast enjoys a day off on Sunday and it’s been a huge lifestyle change for everyone. “I love it, but I do forget to take care of my life,” she reveals. “I live on my own but I regularly go home to see my family. We’re all very close. They’re a massive part of my life and it’s been difficult not seeing them while I rehearse.”
Jade was born and raised in east London, where music ruled the roost. “Music was a massive part of my life,” she recalls. “Dad is blind and Mum is partially sighted, so it was the main source of entertainment in our household.”
From an early age, young Jade would sing and dance in front of the family TV. “My parents bought me Disney movies for Christmas each year,” she remembers. “Aladdin was one of my favourites. I loved the idea of making wishes to a genie. I didn’t understand where in the world the story was set, but Jasmine’s skin was like mine. When I saw her, I thought, ‘She could be me.’”
The world of Disney was Jade’s introduction to song and dance and with her parents support, she joined dance classes and landed her first professional role. At 10 years old, she was cast as the young Nala in the West End production of The Lion King.
“I was blown away by the thought of actually acting for real,” the actress continues. “I remember singing Happy Birthday for the audition and thinking, ‘I’ve got this.’”
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DEEN VAN MEER • WENN A total of 337 costumes will grace the stage in each performance, which lasts two hours and 30 min
And now, 18 years later, Aladdin came calling and the international search for Jasmine stopped in London as Jade stepped into the limelight. “I didn’t have my hopes up at all,” she says. “I only had one audition, which is unusual. I came back for the final recall three months later and here I am today.”
Jasmine is the only female character in the six-strong leading cast, alongside the likes of Jafar, the Genie and Sultan. The production also welcomes original characters Babkak, Kassim and Omar, Aladdin’s local buddies, who replace faithful monkey Abu.
“This is the biggest role I’ve ever had,” she says. “I’m very much involved in the production from start to end. I’ve always shared a dressing room during other shows, but this time, I get my own. I really do feel like a princess.”
Acting on the West End is no mean feat, the star reminds me. It’s a tiring regime, filled with intense rehearsals, late nights and energetic dance routines. “It sounds crazy, but my biggest struggle is figuring out when to eat dinner,” she admits. “You can’t eat in the middle of the show and I don’t want to eat late at night.”
DEEN VAN MEER • WENN Keep your eyes peeled during Friend Like Me to see a pair of men’s trousers featuring 1,428 Swarovsk
Luckily for Jade, her fast metabolism allows for plenty of energy snacks throughout the day. “Everyone laughs at me because I always have a Snickers nearby. The fridge in my dressing room is stocked full of healthy snacks. I need to have the energy to keep focused.”
Wearing belly-bearing costumes calls for plenty of body confidence, too. “I’m so exposed,” she adds. “My main costume is basically a bra with sleeves and low trousers. My whole belly is out, which isn’t great when I’ve just eaten. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Musically minded Jade claims singing in the show is the easy part, despite the challenges of the flying carpet. Along with a successful run with the Sugababes, the actress claimed fifth place at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s It’s My Time. The song was the most successful British entry since 1997. She also put on a show-stopping soprano performance of Summertime at Regent’s Park in 2014 in the Gershwin opera Porgy And Bess.
“I’ve sung all my life, so it’s in-built now. It never feels like work,” she confesses. “I’m known to be a pop singer, but I can tailor my voice to suit a song.”
Aladdin on broadway
Fri, May 20, 2016
The classic hit film has been brought to thrilling life on stage, featuring all the songs from the Academy Award-winning score, together with new music written for this West End production
Courtney Reed (Jasmine) and Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) in the broadway production of Disney's Aladdin
DEEN VAN MEER • WENN “This is the biggest role I’ve ever had,” says Jade Ewen
As the opening night looms closer, Jade describes the lengthy process of donning Jasmine’s luscious locks. “My hair will be braided back under a stocking cap with a microphone attached, then another cap will go on top, followed by the wig.”
The wig is a staggering 33 inches long, reaching well below Jade’s waist. “It’s so heavy,” she points out. “I feel so free when I take it off.”
Dressed in full costume, the actress is transformed into an Arabian beauty. She admits she can’t help but smile when she sees the finished product. “When you see the costumes and the set combined, you can’t help but feel excited,” she says. “Everybody is so happy. There’s a really positive vibe backstage. We all know how lucky we are to be here.”
Tickets are now on sale for the stage show, which is running until February next year and hopes to welcome fans of all ages. “It’s a classic family show, but it’s more mature than you’d expect. If this is a child’s first experience of Aladdin, maybe it’ll become their favourite Disney story, too.”
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DEEN VAN MEER • WENN Jade is excited with the promise of a solo album and more West End performances on the cards
With months of evening and matinee performances ahead, the cast is prepared to deliver a roller coaster of magical delight. Despite the hard work ahead, Jade is already looking to the future with her sights set on Broadway. “I would love to act on Broadway one day. Who knows what role it would be, but that’s the goal.”
With Eurovision still fresh in our minds, is Jade set to sing another hit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s?
“I’d love to work with Andrew again,” the 28 year old says. “He kick-started my career with a fusion of musical theatre and pop and I want to continue doing both.”
With the promise of a solo album and more West End performances on the cards, Jade returns to the excitement of the show.
“The audience will get a lot of surprises. You’ll have to see the show to find out,” she teases.