Panto people: The cast of this year’s panto production of Aladdin from left, George Morton as Aladdin, Julia Frith as Princess Li-Chee, Will Kempe as Abanazer, Latisha Lister as the Genie and Donyelle Burchall as Phee Ling. *File photo
Panto people: The cast of this year’s panto production of Aladdin from left, George Morton as Aladdin, Julia Frith as Princess Li-Chee, Will Kempe as Abanazer, Latisha Lister as the Genie and Donyelle Burchall as Phee Ling. *File photo

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28: He’s stepped in for George Clooney, acted alongside Ice-T and now he is to play the evil villain in this year’s panto production of Aladdin.

Well-known Bermudian actor Will Kempe says he is stepping into his first ever pantomime role because his four-year-old daughter is just at the right age to appreciate it.

He is to play the menacing Abanazer who is determined to steal the powerful genie so he can take over the world.

Kempe is to share the limelight with the title role of Aladdin to be played by Saltus head of drama George Morton in the Bermuda Musical and Dramatics production opening at City Hall on December 6.

 “I had to get permission from my four-year-old to be the baddy and she had to think about it,” Kempe told the Bermuda Sun.

“I thought that at that age Christmas is such a big deal and there wouldn’t be too many opportunities for her to enjoy having her dad in a panto —most teenagers find it embarrassing.

“She loves the idea. The first time I took her to rehearsals at Daylesford Theatre she went on stage and went round the back and came round the other side and she loved it. I am also excited to do it because my step daughter Hannah Rose is in the adult chorus.”

Asked how his character is coming along he said: “I’m very sarcastic, very evil and bad. I am just stirring the pot most of the time.”

Aladdin tells the story of the wicked Abanazer who is hell bent on getting his hands on the precious genie so he can wish to rule the world. However, local lad Aladdin, his brother the cheeky Wishy Washy (Deon Ming) and their fearsome mother washerwoman Widow Twankey (Alan Brooks) are on hand to foil his evil plan.

There are magical cave spirits, the Emperor of China (Owain Johnston-Barnes) and a beautiful Princess (Julia Frith) in this fairy tale world. The show is bursting with songs, silliness and audience participation.

One thing Kempe is looking forward to about his debut panto performance is having the freedom to add a little of his own humour into the role.

“I have set the character up so he is from a rival business island to Bermuda who throws daggers at Bermuda so the people will be booing and hissing. I am the bad guy so I have to be hated and I am very good at that.”

Even as a well-experienced actor, Kempe said that Bermuda has some of the best amateur theatre he has seen.

Fantastic sets

“Aladdin is set in China and the sets are fantastic. That is one of the things that is extraordinary about BMDS and the whole theatrical world here. Any other regional companies that I have been to in LA or New York they don’t have sets like this, they don’t have theatres like this — you do when you are on Broadway yes, but the gap between amateur and Broadway is a vast chasm.

“Alan Brooks is the dame in this and he is fantastic — he is so good at making fun of himself. Julia Frith has a beautiful singing voice she is great as the princess and George Morton — I knew he was great right away. I was like: ‘Wow who is this guy? I see why he got the part.’

“It’s directed by Jo Shane and she is brilliant. She has definitely put her twist on it and it definitely has that Bermuda vernacular in it which is always very funny. There is a local flavour which makes it unique and charming and Bermudian.”

Kempe, who is usually based in New York, was most recently on the Bermuda stage in BMDS’s production of Tom Stoppard’s great masterpiece Arcadia playing Bernard Nightingale. It was quite a far cry from the fun and frolicks of the upcoming pantomime.

“The panto is the antithesis of the last play. To go from Arcadia to Aladdin is the full gamut so in a year I think that is pretty good.

“It turned out to be really successful — it is a huge play to tackle for any amateur theatre company and everyone involved acquitted themselves really well. It is a sign that you can take chances here and do hard plays and people will rise to the challenge”.

Among his other career highlights are a starring role in the 1990 comedy Metropolitan as the bad guy Rick Von Sloneker. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He also stood in for George Clooney on the set of the film Syriana though he never appeared on screen — he just read Clooney’s lines in his absence alongside star actor William Hurt.

Kempe has also appeared in the soap opera One Life To Live and acted in Law and Order alongside Richard Belzer and Ice Tea.

One role he will draw on for his role as Abanazer is one of the first movies he acted in Pledge Night.

“I had to come up with this heinous, dark, evil laugh. I came up with something good and I will use it in the panto. I often do it for my kids just to scare them.”