Graeme Isaako's words would be music to any mother's ears.

The 29-year-old is about to dazzle Auckland audiences as the lead in Disney's Aladdin the Musical and he's flying his mum, Jone Purcell, into town from her Sydney home for opening night. While Jone leaves travelling by magic carpet to her son, Isaako says she's been there every step of the way on his journey from child performer to leading man.

"I fly my mum to every opening night and why not? I'm a product of her sacrifice, so it's only fair she gets to share in the rewards," he says, adding that while Aladdin is very much a fairy-tale he can relate to the character.

"The way Aladdin feels about his own mother is one of the biggest parallels for me personally because I share a very similar bond with my mother and grandmother," he says. "There's a song called Proud of my Boy and it's about him trying to make his mother proud and how much he wants to do that.

Advertisement

"She's not there with him and he's in a new environment forging new friendships but he looks to her – and all she's done for him and taught him – for guidance. I look to my mum for guidance, too."

But mum won't be the only family member cheering him on in Auckland.

Before moving to Sydney when he was nine, Isaako spent the first years of his life in Panmure so his grandmother, uncles and aunts and numerous cousins may well be in the audience at Aladdin which opens next week .

Coming "home" to Panmure 10 days before starting rehearsals means Isaako has had plenty of time to catch up with family and friends and persuade his gran to cook one of his favourite meals from childhood.

"The food is one of the things I was most looking forward to," says Isaako, who has Māori and Samoan heritage. "Being a Pacific Islander, I love taro and being able to get good quality taro is great but I've also brought my gran a cabbage and asked her to cook me her amazing cabbage dish because it's out of this world!"

He's now deep into rehearsals for the musical, the first Disney production to visit New Zealand since Mary Poppins in 2012. Based on the 1992 movie Aladdin, it opened on Broadway in 2014 and has since grown to include productions in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and a touring North American company.

Aladdin is the first Disney musical to visit Auckland since Mary Poppins in 2012.
Aladdin is the first Disney musical to visit Auckland since Mary Poppins in 2012.

It's been described as "the most extraordinary spectacle in musical theatre history" and, for Graeme, playing the lead role is something he has long wished for. He can't remember a time when he didn't love singing and dancing so Jone enrolled him in piano and singing shortly after the move to Sydney.

When one of his tutors spotted an audition notice for the musical Oliver, she urged Graeme to go for it and, once he landed the part, he realised this was the career for him. The youngest of three children, Jone was a single mother but moved the family closer to the centre of Sydney so he could attend more classes more easily.

As well as stage shows, his earliest appearances were on TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance but, since 2016, he's been the understudy in Aladdin for some months, having started out as a member of the ensemble playing chief guard Razoul and then "street rat" Aladdin's best friend, Babkek. Isaako has also toured Australia with The Lion King, where he understudied the lead role of Simba, appeared as Nanki-Poo in The Mikado and been part of the ensemble in Oliver.

"I was just eager to be performing," Isaako recalls. "As a child, I would get up early on Saturday mornings to watch Video Hits so I knew all the new songs and dance moves. I loved it, I breathed it; I wanted to sing, I wanted to dance all the time and now I can do those things."

Disney's Aladdin the Musical by numbers:

• There are 34 in the cast
• The show has 337 costumes including 161 pairs of custom-made shoes, 280 pairs of harem pants, more than 180 turbans and Fez hats, 120 cummerbunds and 90 hand-knotted wigs
• The costumes use 1225 different fabrics, 712 different styles of bead and more than 500,000 Swarovski crystals
• A single pair of men's pants in the finale of Friend Like Me features 1428 Swarovski crystals
• The show has more than 700 props ranging in size from a ring to a flat-bed cart.