At 70, the Kiwi actor is packing his bags for a musical road trip.

They say you're never too old to rock'n'roll. In actor George Henare's case, you're never too old for musical theatre.

At 70, Henare is taking on his biggest role ever as the Sultan in the popular blockbuster Aladdin, which opens in Sydney in August.

The hit musical, based on the Disney film, has been on Broadway for two years and now has productions in England, Japan and Germany.

The "must-see" multimillion-dollar Australian show, from the producer of The Lion King and Mary Poppins, is described as coming to "thrilling theatrical life" as a bold new musical comedy.


It will be a whole new start for Henare, an opera singer and actor since the 1960s, who this weekend moves out of the Auckland apartment he has rented for 36 years.

He will tour New Zealand - 21 venues in as many days - with the Gilbert and Sullivan musical HMS Pinafore and spend a month in Christchurch with Educating Rita before crossing the ditch to start rehearsals for Aladdin in June.

Henare can expect at least two years living out of a suitcase as he tours the production around Australia, starting in Sydney. Two other New Zealanders, Joel Hewlett and Joseph O'Sullivan, have roles in the ensemble.

Clearly excited, Henare says it reminds him of being 20, when he had to decide between a teaching career and opera singing.

"I had taken a year off and then I was contacted to say it was time to return to teaching but I thought to myself, 'Opera is what I really want to do'.

"So I paid back my bond and have never looked back," he says. "The devil-may-care attitude I had in my 20s is coming out."

When news came about the role, he was staying on his family's East Cape farm, in the Whakaangiangi Valley close to Te Araroa, where there is limited mobile phone coverage. But when he returned from "the wop-wops" his phone was "blip, blip, blipping" with messagess from his agent.

"I had no idea this [Aladdin] was even a possibility, but I thought about it and decided to go for it because it's time for a new adventure."

Two trips to Australia to audition followed and, when he was confirmed in the role, a third for a wardrobe fitting. He describes the costume, including turbans, as having all sorts of bling.

Henare has performed in theatres all over New Zealand and Australia and appeared on numerous television series, including Shortland Street, Xena: Warrior Princess and Outrageous Fortune. He also starred in Once Were Warriors.

He was awarded an OBE in 1988, made a recipient of an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2009 and received a CNZM in 2010.

Most recently, he appeared in the whimsical stage play Te Po and says that partly inspired him to accept the Aladdin role.

"There were lines about not needing a visual representation of the past because the memories are all inside you and reflecting on that helped a lot in making this decision," he says.