“In order to be a successful Genie, you have to be your authentic self,” says Michael James Scott, the current Genie of Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. Scott is no stranger to the part; after serving as the original standby when the musical first opened in 2014, he went on to originate the role in the Australian company before returning to the Main Stem full time.
With so many nights in Agrabah, Scott has discovered moments to explore a more vulnerable side to the shining, shimmering, and splendid Genie. “[I want audiences] to get a new insight to Genie, as opposed to just a showman. How much of the mask can I remove for the audience? Where are the places where I can let that down?”Audiences may walk into the theatre expecting a carbon-copy of Robin Williams’ performance in the 1992 animated film, but Scott chooses to examine layers of the character in a new way.
“It goes pretty deep with Genie. Aladdin asks him, ‘What do you want?’ It’s the first time Genie is asked this,” Scott says. “He’s used to always giving everybody else what they want. He says, ‘Freedom,’ and it’s one of those [moments where you go], ‘Huh, wow,’ because the Genie, technically, isn’t free.”
That’s a powerful notion for a gay black man to investigate in a big-budget Broadway musical, but Scott isn’t afraid of the challenge. Scott’s fearlessness—and authenticity—is always present, whether he’s wearing a floral suit or the Genie’s dazzling costume.
“[Disney has] allowed me to literally put Michael in there. To have trust with a company like Disney— you just feel so supported,” he says. “To be in the front [in a starring role] with the legacy that is Disney Theatrical, it’s unbelievable.”
Scott does not take that responsibility lightly. He is aware that he could be inspiring young artists of all races, genders, and sexualities at any given performance, which is a full-circle moment for him. He credits the diverse ensemble in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as the first time he saw himself represented on the stage. “It was an aha moment for me that, ‘Oh it is possible! There is a place for someone like me,’” he says.
Shortly after the Australian company opened at The Capitol Theatre, Scott began to receive letters and messages from fans expressing their gratitude at seeing a gay black man as a lead. Now he uses social media to connect with people who want to get to know the man behind the glittering gold makeup. However, living as a gay black man means navigating homophobia in the black community and racism in the LGBTQ community, on top of pressures and assumptions that may come from the mainstream. It’s emotionally taxing, but Scott attributes his resilience to a strong support system made up of family members and friends.
“All I can do is walk the walk,” he says. “If I give into that [negativity] and if I allow myself to be disturbed and affected by that, then I’m losing my authenticity, I’m letting people take my power away.”
Scott’s power manifests itself in an effervescence and jovial demeanor that can’t be denied. For Aladdin’s fifth anniversary in March, Scott joined with his brotherhood of Broadway Genies for a celebratory medley, which gave all of their personalities—and riffs—a chance to shine.
It’s this idea of coming together as a collective made up of different identities and experiences that pushes Scott forward. “It’s why I’m thankful for theatre, because the theatre community embraces everyone,” he says. “That to me is what pride is: when a straight man or woman [or anyone] can stand next to you and we all feel the same. There’s nothing more prideful.”