"Can Your Friends Do That?" James Monroe Iglehart on Playing the Genie in Aladdin

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05 Jul 2014

James Monroe Iglehart
James Monroe Iglehart
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

James Monroe Iglehart, who took home the 2014 Tony Award for his performance as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, chats with Playbill.com about his early love for the Genie and taking on the role of a lifetime.

The hulking, happy genie uncomfortably ensconced in Aladdin's lamp — James Monroe Iglehart — is there waiting for you when the curtain goes up at the New Amsterdam Theatre in the latest animation-turned-musical from Disney, evidently cajoled by the Disney elves to provide introductory notes on the characters and conflicts ahead.

The notes are in song form ("Arabian Nights" — words by the late Howard Ashman, music by the prolific Alan Menken), and, in the 1992 animated movie, they ran all of 78 seconds over the opening credit-crawl, sung unseen by the late Bruce Adler.

For Broadway, director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw has created his own — well, "Arabian Nights," a spectacular four-minute curtain raiser set in the Old Baghdad marketplace (designed by Bob Crowley, drenched in hot pink by Natasha Katz's lighting and populated by dancers in Gregg Barnes's cartoon-colored costumes).

A bountifully exuberant tour guide, Iglehart introduces us to his master-to-be, Aladdin (Adam Jacobs), a low-born scamp aspiring for better things; Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed), the better thing; her father, the Sultan (Clifton Davis); the evil Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) and his parroting sidekick, Iago (Don Darryl Rivera) — and, at the end of his "out-of-bottle experience," he says, "Don't miss me too much," then poof! — he's gone for what seems like an eternity, but what is actually 25 minutes.

When he returns, the pent-up fizz factor sends him forth in all his abracadabra glory. "Hello, my name's Genie. What's yours?" he announces, launching into a glitzy, quite literal showstopper — an intense eight-minute rendition of Ashman and Menken's Oscar-nominated "Friend Like Me." (It lost the Oscar to "A Whole New World," which Menken wrote with Tim Rice after Ashman's death.)

"I know it sounds like bull, but the truth of the matter is that I've been in love with the Genie since I first saw him when I was 17," admits Iglehart. "The fact that I get to play him now sends me out on that stage with such joy — that's what keeps me going.


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