PHOTO: Genie delights in 'Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular.' (photo via Flickr/Loren Javier)
One of the greatest pleasures of traveling with Adventures by Disney for its inaugural “Once Upon a Rhine” river cruise in partnership with AmaWaterways was meeting so many wonderful Adventure Guides.
Danny Stiles’ story especially touched my parents and I as he shared with a tour bus’ worth of guests his experience playing the Genie in “Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” for 12 years at Disney California Adventure.
To start, he emphasized that he was, like so many other Disney performers, only a “friend of” or “friend with” the character as he simply performed the Genie in a theatrical presentation. “There is only one Genie, and he’s fantastic,” he explained on the coach as we drove from the AmaKristina to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
In fact, Stiles was on for nearly the entire run of the live “Aladdin” show, coming on as the first replacement Genie after first starting at Disneyland across the esplanade as a Christmas caroler. He only took off a couple of years to pursue a career on Broadway in such shows as “Sister Act” following his earlier studies in musical theater.
Stiles did eventually return to “Aladdin,” where he typically performed anywhere from two to five shows a day. He even played Genie on the very last day of the show before it was replaced by “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion,” which is currently running at the Disneyland Resort.
After his show went dark, he joined Adventures by Disney per a colleague’s recommendation, and we’re sure glad he did.
Back on the bus, he described the process of getting ready as Genie, coming in an hour earlier than everyone else for makeup, which included a bald cap as well as forehead, nose, chin and ear tip prosthetics with surgical glue, plus a wig and beard. Then the finishing touches would be three layers of blue airbrushed paint and a full body unitard.
“So, it was a very very cool, very refreshing outfit to wear. Yes, I smelled great at the end of the day,” he sarcastically quipped.
Among the crazier incidents that occurred live onstage during his tenure was a mishap with a trapdoor.
After Jafar takes the lamp and summons the Genie, there’s a scene where he was meant to leave Aladdin in a huff, descending below stage, but the door wouldn't trigger.
He decided instead to storm off when it did finally drop out from under him.
“Luckily I was in motion, so my second foot feels the trap go underneath me as I continue forward,” he said. “We avoided a big problem with that.”
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Props also proved problematic as one gag had the Genie appear in a cloud of smoke showering with a brush, at which point he was meant to toss the brush offstage upon being seen by Jafar and screaming in surprise.
However, Danny remembered, “I forgot to throw the brush, so then I’m like standing there with the brush and the lamp. And so I just turned around, and I threw the brush off stage without checking first if it was clear. There’s my favorite tech in the world. His name is Chris Tone. He’s a big guy. So, I turn and I throw the brush, and as I open my eyes after the brush has left my hand, I see Chris going, he’s off the stage going, ‘Nooooo!’ Whacked him right in the knee.”
Yet another time, he did dispatch one of the props correctly, but it was the wrong one of the two. At this point, the Genie is meant to look at Jafar like he now has the lamp, but instead all Danny could say was, “Oh, now you have…the brush.”
He continued the story adding, “Uhhh…uh oh. I was standing on stage going, ‘I think I just threw the lamp off stage. Uh, how do we play this one out?’”
His solution? A funny MC Hammer walk off stage to retrieve the missing lamp.
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After Jafar had been condemned to the lamp himself and Genie asked (during California earthquake season) if he had ever experienced such a tremor, he would then shake the lamp vigorously.
Except for the time it fell apart.
The top and base are ordinarily held together by a sharp metal pin, and the top just spun up and hit Stiles' face.
“My forehead feels so strange,” he recalled. “And I go continue to do the scene, and Aladdin’s looking at me, and he’s all, ‘I think you should go.’ Apparently, the pin had hit me square in between the eyes, punctured through the foam latex forehead, and I was bleeding profusely. What a great children's show.
"So, we had to cancel the show from that moment to kind of deal with that. As you know, live theater: that's why I love it, that's why I thrive on it. Anything can happen.”
But the story that absolutely pulls at the heartstrings is this one:
“So, sometimes when you’re doing a show, and you’re covered in makeup, and you’re covered in costume, and you’ve done the show four times a day; when you get off stage, you have a little moment to yourself, and you start taking all the gak off. And the foam that made the bodysuit is soaked with your work, if you know what I’m saying:
"It’s wet at the end of the day. I’m down there in my dressing room, sharing with other people, and I get a phone call from management."
They wanted to know if Stiles was still in costume and whether or not he’d be willing to do a photo meet-and-greet with a guest, (as can be requested of the cast).
“I was tired. Oh my gosh, I was so tired. The first thought that came to my head was, ‘I have the choice. I can say no because I’m out of my costume.’ Something in my head though said, ‘Just go and do it anyway, do it anyway. Do something special for somebody.’
"So, I put back on the wet costume. With a little bit of resentment in my heart, I walk across the theater, under the theater, up to the stage. And right before I go out, they say it’s a little boy from Australia, and we think he’s Make-A-Wish.
“There was kind of a presentation. They pull back this black curtain and the genie walks out. … And they’re jumping up and down. There’s a little boy in a wheelchair, and his two little sisters and his grandmother and his mother, and the girls are jumping up and down. This little boy in this wheelchair—his name is Ben—is smiling from ear to ear. And I was like, already, I go, 'I’m so grateful I came up here to do this'.
“And they go, 'okay, we want to take a picture with him', and he goes over. They put the wheelchair next to me, and he [Ben] then gets up. And he stands next to me, and I said, ‘No, no, don’t you want to? You can sit.’ And he goes, ‘I don’t want that in my picture. I don’t want this in my picture.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’
"And we’re talking, and he’s sort of shy, he’s sort of quiet. He's giving me great hugs, and grandma’s kind of dictating everything that’s going on. And the two little sisters are saying, ‘Genie, please come be in Brisbane with us. Please come to Brisbane, Genie. Please, please, please.’ I’m like, ‘Well, you know, I travel all over the place. Brisbane is one of my favorite places to go.’
“So, Ben gives me a big hug, and he just looks at me and he says, ‘Thank you so much, Genie.’ And he sits back down in his chair, and he’s starting out. And as he’s – grandma’s sort of pushing him – and she’s like, ‘Come on kids, come on kids.’ His sister, Ben’s little sister comes up and she grabs me around the waist, and she puts her head up against my belly and she’s just sitting there. And I’m like, ‘Wow, you give good long hugs.’
"And she looks up, and she’s smiling ear to ear – freckles on her face, a missing tooth because you know at that age you lose teeth – and she’s crying. And I was like, ‘Wow, I didn't realize this was going to be that important to her to meet the Genie.’
“And Ben has left, and the grandma’s saying, ‘Come now.’ And I couldn't find mom. I didn't know where she was. And then I turn around, and there was mom in the corner in a puddle of tears. And I was like, ‘Whoa.’ She said to me, all she could say was, ‘That was his last wish. His final wish was to come to California from Australia and meet the Genie. That’s the last thing he wanted to do.’
"Ben died a month after that. But I never regretted deciding to think about somebody else first and not about myself. So, while we had a lot of fun times doing that show, being able to be the ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation was really the reward, was way more important than the laughs.”
After regaining his composure, and we regained ours, Stiles simply said, “Thanks for letting me share my story. … That’s some of the magic that we get to create, and sometimes the magic isn't so much for other people. Sometimes it changes us more than it changes the people we do it for.”
And to that, I say, thank you, Danny Stiles.