Revisiting Aladdin: Interview with James Monroe Iglehart and Adam JacobsPosted by Kellvin Chavez
May 27, 2016
Two years on Broadway since its debut in 2014, Disney’s Aladdin is still packing the theaters with huge audiences, earning nearly 100% of its potential gross. Based on the based on the 1992 Disney animated film of the same name with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, the musical is timeless and while the cast changes periodically, the show remains intact with stellar performances and a treat for all.
The story follows the familiar tale of how a poor young man discovers a genie in a lamp and uses his wishes to marry the princess that he loves and to thwart the Sultan’s evil Grand Vizier. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, winning one for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the Genie.
Blackfilm.com recently caught up with Inglehart, and Adam Jacobs, who plays Aladdin, and both talked about their roles in the current production.
James Monroe Iglehart: I do enjoy that folks really get into it because I enjoy getting it. I love it where you just get to go nuts. Ninety percent of what you hear, he wrote. There’s ten percent that he let me play around with in the studio and actually put in the script if it was funny enough.
What do you do to bring the same energy for every performance?
Adam Jacobs: What fuels me is that there are a lot of people coming to Broadway and to the show for the first time. Lots of kids and lots of adults and it’s usually the kids were it’s a special moment for them. I remember the first time I saw a Broadway show and how excited I was. That really fuels me and for some, it’s the first time they have seen Aladdin. They may not have seen the film. And also, the cast. We all work together to pump each other up. Before the show, we give each other a pound on the back, like a sports team.
James Monroe Iglehart: There are people out there who pay their hard earned money to see a good show and people who work 9 to 5 and they saved their money and they want to see the best show possible. And also, folks live in a regular world, so when they come to our show, we want to take that away from them for a little bit. Just give them two hours to make up for the train that didn’t come on time or the terrible news you get from TV. When they come to our show, I want them to forget about that for a little while and enjoy the moment. That’s what I want to give them. I loved performing since I was a little kid. I want them to know that when they Adam and I and Courtney and Jonathan, that we gave our best even if this show is not their cup of tea.
After winning the Tony, there was talk that you would leave.
James Monroe Iglehart: People think that, but what they don’t understand is that we actually enjoy what we are doing. This wonderful company that I work for has allowed me to do other things while I’m doing this. I got to do two guest appearances on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I’m a big Batman fan and got to be on the series Gotham. I’ve gotten to do concerts because of this show. There are other things that this show has allowed us to do. Adam was able to do album.
Can you talk about the album?
Adam Jacobs: I did an album and they allowed me to sell it at the show. I also did a Disney cruise line gig. I always wanted to make an album and it was an idea that came to me when we first started working on Aladdin. I always loved Alan Menken songs and wanted my first album to be a tribute to him and his work. I always loved his music. Alan Menken took me to his studio and we went through his trunks of songs and put together an album of stuff that people and stuff that people don’t know. I’m very proud with the way it came out. I had no idea what it would be like to do an album and that process was grueling and tedious but it was very rewarding. I would do it again if I had the chance.
How did you go about from making a Genie funny than obedient and boring?
James Monroe Iglehart: They are servants but one of the great things about this genie is that when Robin Williams created him, and they created this after him, they were allowed to go crazy and when they had to go find someone to play the role live, they had to find someone who was nutty enough to go in different directions. I remembered getting the script for the auditions, I had asked someone there if improvs were allowed, and he said everyone is sticking to the script. I said to myself that they are either going to love me or hate me. I was crossing out lines and throwing in my own lines. I went into the room and started doing things. They were like, “This boy is nuts! We should keep him.” That’s how it all came about.
Do you have to maintain the weight for the role?
James Monroe Iglehart: Yes. I do. I have to maintain the weight. This is the second show that I have done where I am not allowed to technically lose any weight. I’m supposed to be big. It’s impressive to see someone of my size. When you see big people, they expect them to wobble or something. The whole feeling of bigger people in this country is so negative. This works for me. When I was skinny, I didn’t get work. When I came out of college, I didn’t get work until the Iglehart gene kicked in. Most of my family are large and that’s when it started happening. My acrobats moves stayed with me.
What’s different from the film and show?
Adam Jacobs: They flushed out the character and dropped back in some of the songs from the film that were cut. I get to sing a great song called “Proud of your boy” which was by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and they were so hurt when it had to be cut from the film. They were not happy. For the sake of the film, they had to streamline everything. That song in particular, I sing towards the beginning of the show, and what it does is show his wants and needs at the beginning and what’s motivating him and carry it throughout the show. It gives him layers and dimensions. He’s a well rounded character and it’s great.
What does the show do for you?
Adam Jacobs: We all have a passion to perform and a lot of us trained to do this and there’s a certain gratification from knowing that you did your best work and knowing that you are at the level that you are at. You can check that box off. You want to make your parents proud for the tuition they paid at NYU.
James Monroe Iglehart: I love performing. There is an ego in me that loves to be in front of people. I love to make people laugh and love to make people smile. The first time I performed and heard the applause, that was the sound that I wanted to hear for the rest of my life.
A Whole New World
Adam Jacobs sings Proud of Your Boy