A GoPride Interview

Mathew and Lissa deGuzman

Mathew and Lissa deGuzman swing through 19 tracks in Disney's Aladdin

Tue. May 23, 2017  by Matt Inawat

You may never know that you are going on until three minutes before; and all of a sudden you have a team around you throwing costumes at you and getting ready!
Mathew and Lissa deGuzman

Brother and sister Mathew and Lissa deGuzman play almost every part in the national tour of Disney's Aladdin. The duo have a combined 19 tracks that they have to master - and that includes singing, dancing, performing, and everything else -  when covering for a fellow cast member.

We took a moment to chat with the sibling swings as they talked about their start in theater, to-do list Chicago hotspots and restaurants, and their experience in the magical musical curently playing in Chicago.

Related interviews: Jonathan Weir (Jafar) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine) from Aladdin.

MI: Hi Mathew and Lissa! Good morning to you!

LD/MD: (Mathew) Good morning to you as well!

MI: Hey, thanks for taking time out to chat with ChicagoPride.com and congratulations on Aladdin’s success! 

LD/MD: (Lissa) We are having so much fun!

MI: So tell us about your journey to being a part of Aladdin. What drew you to the project and what was the process like?

LD/MD: (Mathew) So when I was first going in, I had no idea that Lissa would be auditioning or even had it on her radar. Its insane, it's one of those things that if we had tried to plan, it never could have worked out.

LD/MD: (Lissa) About a year ago, I did West Side Story in Nashville and it was with two company members of Aladdin; and they were the ones who brought it to my attention. I was in a show in Connecticut when the auditions were going on. So I sent in a video, and didn’t hear for a while, but then got a call to go in for a callback; and then another callback and it all came together. And during the time when I sent in the video, Mathew was going through all the auditioning and doing the crazy man thing.

LD/MD: (Mathew) Yeah… I had just gotten back from a tour in May of last year and immediately jumped back into the audition scene. I went to as many equity chorus calls and agents appointments as I could. I was seen for Aladdin and went to callback after callback after callback. I think I found out at the very end of August after 7 times of going in - including the final callback where the entire team was there. There was like all of the men that are being seen for the show as well. Yeah, that was my lead up to the show.

LD/MD: (Mathew) So, I found out I had been cast for the show first...

LD/MD: (Lissa) … before I had gotten any callbacks or anything, so that was really exciting.

LD/MD: (Mathew) It was really fun. Obviously, I was really thrilled when I found out I got cast for the show; and when I found out that Lissa had sent in a tape and was going back in, we were joking around never thinking that it would actually work out.

LD/MD: (Lissa) We were thinking how incredible would it be if we both got the show; but then thinking that we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

MI: But you're here and you made it! You're both swings in the production. For those not familiar with the term from a theater context, take us through us what a swing does and the kind of crazy special skills one needs for that!

LD/MD: (Lissa) Well, the swing is a big job. It's like the safety net of the company. So a girl swing learns all of the female tracks and the male swing learns all of the male tracks and then possibly also covers other principled roles or featured roles. You just learn it all, and if a company member needs to call off for whatever reason, you are just ready to jump on stage and cover that track.

LD/MD: (Mathew) And the crazy part about a swing that non-theatre people may not realize is they have to not only know every single person that the regular audience may see onstage, but they also have to know all of their dance steps, all of their vocal parts - which could be between 2-3 different vocal parts depending on who the person is, all of their costume changes, all of their backstage traffic, all of their props, it's much beyond just what you would see on stage!

LD/MD: (Lissa) and when we go on, no one is supposed to know we go on.

LD/MD: (Mathew) Yeah with the swing, the production has to be seamless and no one can tell there is someone who may be doing this for the first time ever in costume, with lights with everyone else around.

MI: How many parts do you each have-to-know in this production? and how long did it take you to master all of the roles you are responsible for?

LD/MD: (Lissa) I learned seven tracks plus Jasmine so that's eight tracks total.

LD/MD: (Mathew) And I cover eleven tracks which includes two features which is Razul and Prince Abdullah, which are male ensemble features. But honestly, as a swing, we are always learning, and doing and getting better!

LD/MD: (Lissa) Every time you go on for a track you are learning. You’re like, “OK, so that works and that doesn’t work.” It's about just constantly getting better at what you're doing.

LD/MD: (Mathew) Oh absolutely - and you never know. You always have to be ready at a moment’s notice. You may never know that you are going on until three minutes before; and all of a sudden you have a team around you throwing costumes at you and getting ready!

MI: That sounds exciting!

LD/MD: (Lissa) My first time was for previews actually, and I think I had a days notice or a nights notice; so I had time to look through the track and everything. But definitely I was still very much in my head and getting anxious about it because it was my first review and first swing. For that first time swinging on, thinking back, I don’t remember much about that performance because you are just going going going; and trying to think ahead and trying to be present and get the right baskets and talk the right step and meet the right mark - and it is totally exhilarating!

LD/MD: (Mathew) Totally

MI: What's it like working in a grand scale Disney production?

LD/MD: (Mathew) It is incredible! The blockbuster nature of this lavish show is insane. It’s romantic and funny and made for all ages; and sometimes I look at what we are wearing and the set around us. It's just nothing but thrilling and lavish. It's so fun!

LD/MD: (Lissa) It's pretty magical. I have seen the show many times, to study tracks and everything, and it's magical every time. It's magical being in it, it's magical watching it. Disney does it right, they know how to put on a show, they put together amazing talented companies, and they have an amazing creative team. It's a dream come true.

MI: Take us back a little bit - how did you both get involved in acting?

LD/MD: (Mathew) Oh that's a good question. I started acting and doing shows when I was 9 years old. I was never really good at or interested in sports. And my mom was like “oh maybe you should try this audition for this show” and since that time, I just kept auditioning and doing shows - whether it was the community theatre or the downtown professional theatre where we're from. So since I was 9, I never stopped doing it.

LD/MD: (Lissa) I was kind of the opposite to him. I was always interested in it because he is a little older than me, so we were always going to his shows and everything. But as a little kid, I went to a few auditions but never really nailed [them], so I got into soccer and basketball and volleyball. 

I did the sport scene for a while until high school. Then in high school, I did some musicals and that's when I really fell in love with it. My director sat me down and said “if you really buckled down you could pursue it,” so I thought it was now or never - and I made the best decision I ever made! Yeah, so I was a bit of a late bloomer.

MI: Where are you both originally from? 

LD/MD: (Lissa) Milwaukee, WI. We’ve been to Chicago, we know it we love it

MI: You’re practically neighbors! So have you visited Chicago quite a bit or is this your first time spending this much time in Chicago?

LD/MD: (Mathew) I wouldn’t say lots of times. Our parents would bring us down occasionally when a big big show was coming through Chicago that [either] wasn’t coming to Milwaukee or wouldn’t be in Milwaukee for a year or two.

So we would come down to see shows here. I was here 2 summers ago with another tour and I’ve worked in some of the regional houses in Chicago before.

MI: Lissa, complete the sentence: Your favorite local landmark for taking a great a photo is...

LD/MD: (Lissa) In Chicago specifically? Oh, the Bean of course. I also took an amazing walk along the lakefront the other day and all the boats are out and it was beautiful. 

MI: The weather just dropped 40 degrees from yesterday and today…

LD/MD: (Lissa) We were just talking about that. We had one good day of sunshine and warmth and now we are back to not spring, I guess!

MI: And Mathew, complete the sentence: Your favorite local place for a Sunday brunch is ….

LD/MD: (Mathew) Unfortunately, our schedule on Sunday, we have two shows and Sunday brunch is one of my favorite things! When we were still in rehearsals I went to Lula Cafe here in Logan Square with some friends and it was incredible!

MI: So what do you like to do on your days off?

LD/MD: (Lissa) Sleep! [laughs]

LD/MD: (Mathew) It was so nice these last few days off. I took a towel outside with my coffee and just laid outside. Just relaxed and enjoyed the weather.

LD/MD: (Lissa) We like to do laundry.

LD/MD: (Mathew) It is nice now that the weather is getting nicer. I like to explore all of the different neighborhoods Chicago has to offer.

LD/MD: (Lissa) And we have this whole list of restaurants to try because we have heard about how amazing the food is in Chicago. So it is kind of a catch up. 

This place called the Giant, Parachute, The Snick, Longman and Eagle, Gather and Elizabeth - that is what is on our list. I’ll send you the list!

MI: I would love that! Even as a Chicago resident it’s tough getting enough time to visit all of the fabulous restaurants.

Is there a dream role in any play or musical that you'd love to portray? 

LD/MD: (Mathew) I think this is a kind of a copout answer, but as a swing you get to do all of the best parts that everyone has of the show you are in.

LD/MD: (Lissa) That is true… the best of both worlds really. People actually ask that a question a lot and I never really have a great answer.

MI: Earlier this month, the 20th anniversary cast of RENT (which was playing across the street from Aladdin), along with Broadway in Chicago, held a fundraiser to benefit the Legacy Project, which is the world's largest outdoor LGBT museum.

I came across a great photo on Lissa's instagram where the Aladdin Broadway cast raised money for the AIDS Walk NYC. Are there any plans for a local team fundraiser with the Aladdin cast?

LD/MD: (Mathew) You know it we have been talking about that within the cast, we haven’t solidified anything yet.

LD/MD: (Lissa) But is is definitely in the works.

MI: Any charities or causes that are personally important to each of you?

LD/MD: (Mathew) Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS is always a huge thing for me personally and for the Broadway community. It not only helps people living with HIV/AIDS, but also provides women’s programs and so many health initiatives for people living all across the country. So that is a huge one.

MI: I hate that this interview is coming to an end! Here's the final question for both of you: If you could sum up your theatrical life in a musical title, what would it be?

LD/MD: (Mathew) Oh my gosh!

LD/MD: (Lissa) Give us a second.

LD/MD: (Mathew) Oh, I know, because I say this all of the time… “Never a Dull Moment.” Straight up that is definitely mine.

LD/MD: (Lissa) Mine is “Dancing Through Life.” That’s a good question!

MI: It was alot of fun chatting with you both today. Thanks for taking time out for the interview! Best of luck and success on the show. And I'll be looking for you on stage next time!

LD/MD: (Mathew) Absolutely, thank you!

LD/MD: (Lissa) Thank you!

Disney's Aladdin is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through September 10, 2017. For tickets, visit BroadwayInChicago.com.

Related interviews: Jonathan Weir (Jafar) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine) from Aladdin.

Photo Credit: Deen Van Meer


Interviewed by Matt Inawat. Ron Matthew Inawat is president of the GoPride Network and contributes to ChicagoPride.com, PrideLA.com and other sites within the GoPride Network.