Actors on stage perform a scene from "Disney's Aladdin."
Anand Nagraj, left, plays Jafar in the production of "Disney's Aladdin" Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Nagraj said "Aladdin" imprinted on him growing up. Now he's leaving his imprint on the production. (Photo: Deen van Meer. © Disney)

It was a small opening-night gift, but one that brought memories flooding back for Anand Nagraj. He is Jafar in “Disney’s Aladdin” which plays the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

“My mom… and my dad had been rummaging through the attic and they found an old box of toys,” Nagraj said by phone from Hartford, Conn. “They sent me, I think it was the McDonald’s Jafar, with his staff. And it really brought back a lot of memories about how important that movie was for me.”

“Aladdin” was the animated Disney film that resonated with him the most. There are a couple of reasons for that.

“I was, I think, maybe 8 or 9 when the original Disney film came out, back in 1992,” he said. “That was a pretty tremendous thing for me. At 8 or 9 is kind of your peak Disney movie age, so that was my Disney movie. That’s the one that resonated with me.”

But it wasn’t just his age that made the movie matter.

“And it happened to be a story full of people who looked like me,” Nagraj said. “It’s something I hadn’t really clocked until I’d been here doing it. That movie really imprinted on me.”

Show times

  • Wednesday, November 30, 2022 – 7:30 PM
  • Thursday, December 1, 2022 – 7:30 PM
  • Friday, December 2, 2022 – 7:30 PM
  • Saturday, December 3, 2022 – 2:00 PM
  • Saturday, December 3, 2022 – 7:30 PM
  • Sunday, December 4, 2022 – 1:00 PM

Get ticket information here

Leaving his own imprint on the show

Now he’s leaving his own imprint as the musical tours the nation — Nagraj’s first national tour. The curtain went up in October and he’s been having fun playing the musical’s villain ever since.

“You get to have a lot of impact,” Nagraj said. “It’s a very fun and exciting and powerful position to be in. And I get to do a lot of things and work a lot of muscles that I don’t always get to do. I get to the theater (early) to start my makeup process, which is extensive. But again, so much of my feelings around this experience are just gratitude because I’m getting to really learn the craft of makeup as I go. It’s a lot of fun.”

He also gets a front-row seat for the production. Many of his scenes follow musical numbers, like “Proud of Your Boy” in the first act. 

“One of the privileges of being Jafar is I get to stand in the wings and watch a lot of it,” Nagraj said. “I get to sit and watch the first duet that Jasmine and Aladdin have, I get to watch ‘A Whole New World.’ I’m on right after that, so I sit there and I get to just watch the magic carpet every night. It’s the most fun. It is so much fun.”

Falling into theater

Not bad for someone who says they “fell into” theatre in college after getting their start in high school plays and musicals in Yorktown, Virginia.

“It started out as a good way to meet people, to make friends,” Nagraj said. “I got to college and I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do. I was a singer, I was in the music department, but I wound up with all this free time in the evenings and signed up. I’d done plays in high school, so it was like ‘Oh, I can do that.’ So I signed up and it took off from there. At some point, I realized I could make my living doing this.”

A headshot of actor Anand Nagraj
Anand Nagraj

Advice for aspiring actors

Now he is, and traveling the country for a year, performing in front of countless young people who might want to someday make their own appearance on stage. He’s got advice for anyone wanting to make their career in the performing arts.

“Be resilient and learn as much as you can,” Nagraj said. “Learn as much as you can about as many things as you can. I think being as well-rounded of a person as you can be is one of the best things to build a life in the theatre.”

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger