BWW Interview: Matthew Croke On Becoming The New West End Aladdin
Following UK tours of West Side Story and Singin' in the Rain, plus ensemble and understudying roles in shows like Wicked and Grease, Matthew Croke takes on his first West End lead when he becomes the new Aladdin on 5 June in the Disney's hit production at Prince Edward Theatre.
Were you a fan of Aladdin growing up?
I remember as a kid genuinely running home from school wanting to put it on. I fell in love with it when it was released - it was my favourite Disney film, and as a musical it made me feel like I was on cloud nine.
What do you love about it?
There's so much there. Everyone loves a good love story, and then Aladdin and the genie are best mates - we all know how much that can mean. The musical brings a bit more details to those relationships, like the romance with Jasmine. People who loved the film will get that nostalgic feeling of something they grew up with and see all the bits they remember, but they'll also get so much more - and leave with a big smile on their face!
How do you put your stamp on an iconic character like Aladdin?
I take a step back, read the script and pinpoints all the things I can relate to as Matthew - he's a cheeky chappie, and so am I! At school I was always the kid who enjoyed having a good time. He's also ambitious and wants to make a good life for himself. So that's my approach as an actor - to find those little ways to make it your own.
What's it like coming into an established company?
You always get that first day of school feeling on a new job, but everyone's been so welcoming, to me and the other performers taking over roles. It's really exciting to go forward with that existing company and also make it feel fresh.
I've definitely been on both ends of that - being in a company meeting new people, and also being the new person. What's so great about cast changes in long-running shows is that it keeps it exciting - that's what we love as actors and hopefully makes it a great experience for the audience.
How does it feel to take on your first West End lead?
I can't tell you how much of a different feeling it is - I'm still pinching myself! It's an amazing feeling; I'm forever grateful. I've taken on big roles before, but nothing like this. Jade [Ewen] and Trevor [Dion Nicholas] have been so supportive, and it's really exciting to bond as the three of us and kind of make it new again for them. We're having so much fun.
Have you learned from other people how to lead a company?
I've seen so many people I look up to. They've shown me how important it is to pace yourself but also give 100% in every performance - it's a real balance. Most important is the audience being able to see the same show every day, Monday to Saturday. The brilliant leads I've worked with really set that standard and work ethic for the whole team.
Are you enjoying doing a triple-threat lead role?
I feel so lucky I get to do all three in this part. I trained at this great college, Laine Theatre Arts, they really worked on being as strong as you can in all three disciplines, and I can't believe I get the opportunity to keep working on those skills. Sometimes there's a bit of a trade-off, but I won't miss out on anything here.
But there's also the fun thing of sometimes getting to take a step back in the big production numbers and see how amazing this cast is. A lot of times in rehearsal I've been watching, going "Oh my god". I think colleges are so good now at getting people to that standard, and if you put the work in it really pays off.
What's your favourite number?
I'm having a whale of time with everything! So far, it's probably "Proud of Your Boy" - it's a beautiful song and I can really relate to it. Aladdin's singing to his mother and I'm close to everybody in my family. That's a special one.
My parents and my brother and sister know how much I've been working towards this moment. As actors, we all go through those times of just waiting for that phone to ring, hoping for good news. This makes it all worth it - they were in tears more than me! All my teachers as well - I'm from Sheffield, and they encouraged me so much to pursue my dreams.
It's a show that the audience gets very involved in. Are you looking forward to that response?
Yes, I've watched it a couple of times and the audience reaction is electric - it's so, so cool! I can't wait to hopefully get that as well. The show brings so much excitement, it's this massive spectacle, and it's just pure joy.
Is the scale of the production daunting?
It is pretty crazy - I think there are over 100 costumes changes just in Act One. You're really aware that the production wouldn't work without everybody on board all doing an amazing job - set, lighting, costumes, all the backstage team. I feel as Aladdin you can relax a bit more than other cast members dashing back to change all the time - he gets to sit back and enjoy it!
Any other dream roles in future?
I've been performing a good few years and that dream role question comes up a lot, but as time goes by the dream is really any role - it's such a difficult industry to be in. Aladdin is my actual dream role - not just in professional terms, but going back to a kid and seeing it for the first time. Now I actually get to be in it. So anything else is a bonus!
Tony in West Side Story made a big difference to my career, when I got to go on in that role, so that would be one to maybe take on. And the roles that involve a lot of dancing, while I still can! Dancing has been such a great foundation for me, and really helped me stay fit and healthy and focussed.
Finally, any advice for other performers?
Never lose your belief in yourself. You will have knockbacks, people saying you're not right, you're not what we're looking for, but keep that faith and it'll pay off. You want to go into an audition room showing you're a hard worker and that you believe you can do it.
Watch a video of Matthew Croke's first Aladdin photoshoot below!
Photo credit: Deen van Meer, Disney