Photo by Jeffrey Mosier/ Former Chattanoogan Damon Gillespie stars in the title role of "Aladdin and His Winter Wish," which opens Thursday at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.

A decade ago, Damon Gillespie played Aladdin in a school production at Center for Creative Arts; four years ago, he sang and danced in the Broadway ensemble of "Aladdin" for three weeks.

Now he's come full circle and back to the title role.

Gillespie has been cast as Aladdin in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's holiday production of "Aladdin and His Winter Wish," which opens Thursday for a 10-day run in Nashville.

Although complete with magic carpets, a sultan and genie, this musical has a different plot from the original Middle Eastern folk tale. And this show puts a modern twist on the fairy tale with the addition of pop hits such as Bruno Mars' "Treasure" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."

In "Aladdin and His Winter Wish," Aladdin meets and falls in love with the Princess (she's not named Jasmine) and later has to save her from the clutches of evil magician Abanazar. Helped by his hopeless brother, Wishee Washee, and the magic genie, Aladdin must defeat Abanazar to make his dreams come true.

Take a look at the casting for "Aladdin and His Winter Wish," and it doesn't take a genie-us to realize this musical offers up a holiday gift of a cast.

Start with Bruce Vilanch — remember the big, blond comic from the most recent iteration of "Hollywood Squares"? — who is cast as Aladdin's mother, Widow Twanky. Richard Karn — aka Al Borland, sidekick of Tim "The Toolman" Taylor on "Home Improvement" — plays the Sultan.

Audiences will recognize Josh Adamson as swashbuckling Capt. John Smith from ABC Family's "First Landing," the trans-Atlantic adventure about the founding of Jamestown. And the Genie is Mykal Kilgore, most recently seen in the ensemble of NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar Live."

If you go

› What: “Aladdin and His Winter Wish”

› When: Dec. 12-22

› Where: Tennessee Performing Arts Center, James K. Polk Theater, 505 Deaderick St., Nashville

› Admission: $40 and up

› For more information: 615-782-4040

"Bruce Vilanch is a comedy legend. And I've been a big fan of Richard for years whether it was 'Home Improvement' or the Hulu show my wife and I watched called 'Pen 15,'" says Gillespie.

Playing opposite Gillespie as the Princess will be Kira Kosarin (Nickelodeon's "The Thundermans.")

Gillespie says while he had not met her, he had worked with some of her family members in musical theater so "we hit it off right away."

Because he has been wrapping up taping the new Netfix series "Tiny Pretty Things" in Toronto, Gillespie has had precious little rehearsal time since being offered this role just under two months ago.

After being sent the script, he flew to Los Angeles two weekends ago to meet the cast and start rehearsals. And that was his only rehearsal with the cast until he arrived in Nashville this weekend. He's had to memorize the script on his own, and now has five days to learn the choreography before opening night on Thursday.

Fans who have followed Gillespie's roles from the ensemble of "Newsies" on Broadway in 2014 to his starring turn as Robbie Thorne in "Rise" last year, know he excels in dancing.

So when he describes the characters in "Aladdin and His Winter Wish" as "outgoing, very playful and open to anything," it builds anticipation that this third spin in "Aladdin" may be a career charm.

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.

Coming in 2020

Damon Gillespie just wrapped up filming in Toronto for “Tiny Pretty Things,” a new Netflix drama series based on the book by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.

The series is set in an elite ballet academy and tells the stories of its young-adult students on the verge of greatness.

“It’s essentially about a girl who gets chosen to be in the top ballet school in the nation, and the reason she is there is because of something tragic that happened. We start to find out all the demons behind the beauty of ballet, whether that be in the dancing, the institution or the teachers. It’s the whole idea of beauty and ballet comes with a price,” Gillespie explains.

His character, Caleb Wick, is described by Variety as “a lean and handsome dancer who uses his ready humor and undeniable talent in order to mask his struggles with a profound loss.”

Gillespie advises parents this show is not for children. A launch date in 2020 for “Tiny Pretty Things” is still to come.