April 21st, 2024

The ‘Aladdin’ stage musical turns 10 this month. Here are the magical stories of three Genies

By Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press on March 21, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – James Monroe Iglehart’s mom took him to see the animated Disney movie “Aladdin” as a high-school graduation gift in 1992. He fell in love with the Genie, naturally.

Fast-forward more than two decades and Iglehart found himself playing the first Genie on Broadway, killing it, and on his way to a Tony Award.

“To play the role that I loved so much and be able to be my full, silly self with the volume at 20 to 25 and go crazy was just so cathartic,” he says.

“Aladdin” turns 10 this month and it has done more than become Broadway’s go-to for young people experiencing their first musical. It has also become an incubator for Black actors like Iglehart leading a big Disney musical with joy and humor.

There are currently Genies on Broadway and on tour in the United Kingdom and United States, in Japan and Spain, all doing cartwheels, high kicking and singing “Friend Like Me.” They call it a Genie Brotherhood.

“I kind of just tell the guys, “˜Listen, make sure that you give your authentic self. You don’t have to play it like me,'” Iglehart says. “As long as you bring your brand of silliness and comedy and heart and realness to it, the audience will accept it.”

After ‘Aladdin,” Iglehart went on to land TV and voice work, the Broadway dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton,” King Arthur in the new “Spamalot” revival and will next star as Louis Armstrong in “A Wonderful World.”

“It’s made me the actor I am today. And it’s given me a legacy that I can be thoroughly proud of,” he says. “It changed my life.”

At the Tony Awards in 2014, Iglehart sang, danced and lifted one of the coveted statuettes for best featured actor in front of millions of viewers.

Hundreds of miles away, a Genie-to-be was watching, his life changing.

“˜A very special way to start my career’

Marcus Martin was 16 at the time, an aspiring actor in Akron, Ohio, who sat transfixed as Iglehart filled the Tony stage.

“I was always told that I would have a hard time in this business because the best roles were for skinny white tenors, and I’m not any of those things,” says Martin. “So seeing James gave me permission to dream a new dream.”

He had grown up going to Broadway shows with his mom when they came through Ohio. Watching the Tony telecast, he decided he would one day play the Genie and began memorizing the music and lines. Naturally, he and his mom saw “Aladdin” when the first national tour came to Cleveland.

He graduated Baldwin Wallace University in May 2020 – not the best time to have a degree in performing live for large groups of people. But he persisted. He auditioned for Disney four times and got his dream role.

He is now the Genie on the second national tour.

He started in Schenectady, New York, and has performed in over 50 cities, from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Los Angeles. He’s geeked out over playing historic venues like The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis and the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

“I’m such a theater nerd. I always say I’m a fan first, actor second,” he says. Martin likes to look for famous autographs on the walls or under desks in his new dressing rooms.

“All the greats, and some that I’ve even looked up to as a young performer, I’m now in the same space as them, sharing dressing rooms,” he says. “This is a very special way to start my career.”

He has become friends with Iglehart and the two were joined by a third Genie before Martin went to lead the tour. “They took me to lunch to kind of send me off and give me the secrets of the lamp,” says Martin.

That third Genie is Michael James Scott – the Genie that Martin and his mom saw when “Aladdin” came to Cleveland.

“˜Broadway was always a dream’

Disney has a gravitational pull in Orlando, Florida, where Scott grew up. He performed as a younger man in the theme parks and at special events, always readying for the spotlight in New York.

“Broadway was always a dream of mine since I was a little boy,” he says.

Scott is a Broadway veteran by now, with credits in “Mama Mia!” “Tarzan,” “Elf” and “Something Rotten!” But he calls Genie “one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles. It’s like everything in the kitchen sink in one role.”

He led the first national tour of “Aladdin” and played the Genie in London’s West End. He originated the role when the show went to Australia and was deeply moved when a group of Aboriginal children came to see him in their very first Broadway tour.

“The Genie is love, light, laughter and people want to have that right now,” Scott says. “To be that person for young people to look out to see and also as a person of color and what that really means in representation, is something I don’t hold lightly.”

These days, he’s the proud Genie on Broadway.

“If this little chocolate, chubby child from Orlando, Florida, could one day grow up to be the Genie in “˜Aladdin’ on Broadway and around the world, anything is possible,” he says.

As the show celebrates its 10th anniversary, Scott has an idea why it has lasted. “It does not apologize for being this big Broadway musical, epic comedy,” he says. “Don’t you want to have joy?”

___

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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