PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jonathan Freeman, Original Voice and Actor Behind Aladdin's Jafar

By Michael Gioia
06 Mar 2014

Jafar as depicted in the film

James Monroe Iglehart said the cast was so excited to hear your voice in the rehearsal room. At the same time, as an actor, I'm sure you want to bring something new and fresh to the table. What are you rediscovering, and what are you finding out about Jafar over 20 years later?
JF: Well, they've given me new material. We're not dogmatic about doing the film because the film was a big action-adventure movie. This is a big musical comedy, so they've given me new material, and I actually have a new song. Jafar's had many songs throughout these different incarnations, but the song that I have now is a wonderful song. I have new stuff to do, so it's challenged me in a different way, and I'm working face to face with people. When you work in a vacuum doing voicing… I mean, I worked a little bit with all the other characters in the film, but primarily, you're in a studio with a reader or the directors or just by yourself with people in a booth, so it gives you a lot [to work with by] just having somebody right there.

What kind of insight are you bringing to the cast? The creative team expressed how they are reincorporating plotlines and songs that have been cut from the film. What have you brought to the rehearsal room, having been there for the beginnings of "Aladdin"?
JF: Another good question… I guess the only people in the room right now [who were there during the film in 1992] are myself and Alan Menken [and Disney Theatrical Productions president and producer] Thomas Schumacher… I'm not sure that I have any better insight than anybody does. I do feel, though, like I'm a little bit of a guardian for the piece. I've been very clear that I want to make sure that Jafar remains a real villain because I think, without a good villain, you don't have enough gasoline for a project to push against, and that's been very important to me — to make sure that he isn't made too "musical comedy" and that he remains a hard-edge villain. That's something that I hope that I brought to the project, and I know that they thought that was valuable. I think that's really about it. I can't say that I'm a great "guru" of the project, but I do feel like I have some kind of guardianship over it. It's a very precious project to me, obviously, because it's been in my life. It's been a long job.

Because it's such precious material for so many people, what excites you about bringing Aladdin to a new generation?
JF: Well, it's interesting because I guess every few years or so — every ten years — there's a new influx of people who want to go look at the movie… Well, most people — I don't know if they realize it… Aladdin, as you know, is a centuries-old story, and it's a great story. It's a great boy's story, which is, I think, one of the great things about the film and why kids are attracted to it — there's a big influx of guys who wanted to be Aladdin like our Aladdin, Adam Jacobs. But, it's old material. We didn't invent it. We've been handed this great story. Disney took this story and recreated it, and now, here we are, once again, taking it another step further, so it's exciting, [and] it's been a good challenge.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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