As you approach Manchester’s Palace Theatre, giant posters of Yeukayi Ushe look down on you carrying the message ‘Magic Awaits’.

So, no pressure there then!

As the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin the Musical, currently enjoying a six week residency in the city, Yeukayi is fully aware of the levels of expectation from generations who have grown up with the animated adventure.

Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie in Disneys Aladdin the Musical (Picture: Deen Van Meer)

Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin the Musical (Picture: Deen Van Meer)

“If you come to a show like this as an actor, if you feel the responsibility I think that it would cripple you,” he said. “Of course I’m aware that Robin Williams and Will Smith, these Hollywood powerhouses, have been the Genie. But I can’t let that affect me.

“I’ve got the opportunity to inhabit that same space that they have inhabited and to just be free and have fun and play and tell the story. At the end of the day, we are storytellers.”

Based on the 1992 Disney animation, Aladdin the Musical has taken a cult classic and given it a whole new lease of life. The show features some new songs and the production is spectacular.

Yeukayi’s Genie is at the heart of the show.

“Because the Genie is a magical character he gets to exist in the space between the story and the audience,” he said. “He is the narrator for the piece.

“Society has changed a great deal since the animation was made more than 30 years ago so there is a necessity for this character to exist now. But the Genie is also timeless.

“If you get on stage have fun, the audience will have fun with you. Tell the story and the audience will listen.

Gavin Adam, Aladdin, and, Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie with the cast of Aladdin the Musical (Picture: Deen Van Meer)

Gavin Adam, Aladdin, and, Yeukayi Ushe as the Genie with the cast of Aladdin the Musical (Picture: Deen Van Meer)

“What is beautiful about our show is that there is something in it for everybody. If you want to come and just be entertained you can come and be entertained; if you want to have a cathartic release it’s also possible. If you want to come and see magic it’s also possible; if you want to believe in something higher than yourself, it’s also possible.

“You’re also getting the full Disney experience. Disney is famous for its spectacle but it’s not just about spectacle for the sake of it, every little detail is important and the audience realise this is something special.”

On stage the Genie is very much a larger than life character but Yeukayi insists that off-stage he’s not like that.

“I think it just comes from somewhere within when I need to play this larger than life character,” he said. “Actually day to day I’m pretty reserved but when it’s time to go on stage, I just get this look in my eye - it terrifies Gavin (Gavin Adams, who plays Aladdin) - and I’m ready.

Yeukayi Ushe

Yeukayi Ushe

“Once the glitter goes on it’s a completely different person. Then I hear the music that comes on before I’m on stage, then I’m giggling, then I’m on.

“I get the chance to play, particularly the way Chad Beguelin has put this script together, there are so many moments to have fun with; so many opportunities to play with the people on stage and the audience.

“So mentally it actually costs me a lot less than people realise but physically - oh my gosh, it is so demanding. It’s like being shot out of a cannon on to a train track and the train’s coming towards you. You just have to keep going.”

Yeukayi is no stranger to working with Disney. For two years he played Simba in The Lion King in London’s West End.

“I was in the first show back after Covid,” he said. “I get goosebumps talking about it now but when the song The Circle of Life ended the theatre erupted in a way I’ve never experienced before or since. There was just so much emotion as I think we all realised we had got theatre back, something we all thought might have gone forever.”

As well as The Lion King, Yeukayi has also starred in the UK tour of Kinky Boots playing another larger-than-life character, Lola.

“Characters like Lola and the Genie are just so much fun to play,” he said. “Yes, they are larger than life but they also have these incredible moments of vulnerability which makes them human and makes the audience fall in love with them. I love playing with that sort of story arc.”

Read also: Gavin Adams makes professional debut as star of Aladdin the Musical

Yeukayi believes that there is something special about Aladdin the Musical, a fact borne out by the reaction of audiences every night.

“This show gives you hope,” he said. “It demonstrates that just because you were born into a certain set of circumstances it doesn’t mean that is all life holds for you.

“Even someone as powerful and inspiring as Genie; he has that same issue and journey.

“The reason I have been part of this industry for 15 years now is that connection you make with the audience through live theatre. There is something really humanly magical about the theatrical experience - and that’s before you get a Genie involved.”

You can’t talk to a Genie and not ask about the three wishes - “it’s something I get asked about a lot” laughed Yeukayi.

“Given the state of the world, there are some obvious wishes I’d love to make,” he said, “but from a purely selfish point of view, I’d love to be able to eat absolutely everything I want to eat without any consequences.”

Disney’s Aladdin the Musical, is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. until Sunday, July 7. Details from