By Michael Gioia
06 Mar 2014
|Photo by Monica Simoes|
When members of the press went to meet the stars of the new Broadway musical Aladdin, James Monroe Iglehart — who stars as the show's larger-than-life Genie — gushed about the first day of rehearsal. Stage and screen actor Jonathan Freeman (who originated the role of Jafar in the famed 1992 Disney film and reprises his performance on stage) said his first lines, and the cast, Iglehart explained, erupted. The actor, who appeared in numerous movie-musical adaptations — including Beauty and the Beast (Cogsworth), Mary Poppin (Admiral Boom and Bank Chariman) and The Little Mermaid (Grimsby) — is back for more Disney on Broadway and returns to Agrabah, the fictional Middle Eastern setting of Aladdin. Freeman chats with Playbill.com about returning to the stage, revisiting Jafar and exposing a new generation to Aladdin, which officially bows at Broadway's New Amsterdam March 20.
Did you ever think, when you were voicing the character of Jafar, that you would reprise your performance on stage?
Jonathan Freeman: I'm not sure I did… I don't think that Disney Theatrical [Productions] had started yet. I'm not sure Beauty and the Beast was on Broadway yet, so no, I didn't know. [The company was founded in 1993, the year after "Aladdin" was released, and Beauty and the Beast opened in 1994.] I mean, I always thought, though, that the last 50 years of the Disney cannon were all stage-worthy. Having grown up doing children's theatre in Cleveland, OH — where I grew up — and doing musicals, we did a lot of the same fairytales, the same epic stories, so I always thought that they were very worthy. And, now it's happened — when they started with Beauty and the Beast. I think that we're probably looking at a time when we can be able to see most of Disney's [material] brought to Broadway. I think it's going to happen.
JF: That is a very good question. I was a little apprehensive because I knew that I was going to be coming into a room with a lot of new people — with new ideas, new energy — and I wasn't entirely sure that I'd have anything new to bring to the project. Maybe what I had to bring to the project was enough, but when you're going into a room with a lot of new people and new energy, you want to be able to step up to the same plate… So I had a lot of trepidation about it, but I was talked out of that trepidation, and I'm so glad that I was because it's a great, great project. It's a fantastic company. We have the best — Bob Crowley sets, Natasha Katz lighting, Gregg Barnes costumes… It's absolutely delicious. It's just like the movie — that beautiful, color-saturated movie — except it's brought to the stage, and it's very energetic. It really is great. I think you'll fall in love all over again. Continued...