When Alan Menken and Howard Ashman first conceived of Disney’s Aladdin, it was less a classic romance between Aladdin and Jasmine and more a buddy comedy between Aladdin and the Genie. Though their connection may not be romantic, for the Broadway version of the Disney tale—currently in its sixth year at the New Amsterdam Theatre—the chemistry between the diamond in the rough and his lamp-dwelling companion is key. And the current Aladdin and Genie share a deep history that allows them to banter with the best of them, while tugging on our heartstrings.
Attaway grew up in Fort Worth, Texas—but he was born in Arlington. Greenspan is from Arlington—but was born in Fort Worth. Though their origin stories crisscross, it wasn’t until a production of The Hot Mikado at Theatre Three in Dallas, Texas, that the two ever met.
Here, we go back to Aladdin’s buddy comedy roots as Attaway and Greenspan interview each other about their favorite shows they did in Texas, their unconventional paths to Broadway, what they love most about working with each other, and what dynamic Disney duo they would be if not Agrabah’s greatest pair:
Major Attaway: Ladies and gentlemen, you’re here with Aladdin and the Genie on Broadway. I’m Major Attaway, and this is—
Clinton Greenspan: Clinton Greenspan.
Attaway: Hey, how are you doing, man?
Greenspan: I’m good, man. How about yourself? Nice hat that I gave to you.
Attaway: For those of you reading, I’m wearing a stylish Spider-Man hat given to me by the one Clinton Greenspan and I’m very grateful for it. We actually share a love for Marvel comics, Spider-Man in particular.
Greenspan: The first day you joined the tour cast, the family got you a life-size Spider-Man cut-out.
Attaway: I just kept it in the gondola where my costumes go. I put it with my very expensive Aladdin costumes because it’s that important to me.
Growing Up Texas Style
Attaway: We didn’t have a chance to get to know each other very well because of the rehearsal schedule of the show we did. We did the Hot Mikado together at Theatre Three in Dallas. And I was the Mikado. What was your character’s name?
Greenspan: I was in the ensemble, I was the guy in the flashy green suit.
Attaway: That’s right. That was a nice suit.
Greenspan: So smooth, I felt like I was performing “Smooth Criminal.”
Attaway: My character wasn’t on stage very much, so I wasn’t at many rehearsals. So we knew each other, but we didn’t get a chance to get to know each other until the Aladdin tour.
Greenspan: It’s hilarious, we performed at the same theatres and we worked at a lot of the same venues. It was kind of crazy that our paths took so long to cross each other.
Attaway: What was your favorite show that you did in Texas?
Greenspan: Honestly, I have to say Dreamgirls was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m a Motown freak, I’m an oldies freak. Getting to do this show where the music was so specific and it really tells its story in its own way aside from the script and aside from the actors. I felt like it was a great honor to be a part of that.
Attaway: Who’d you play?
Greenspan: I played C.C. Marisha Wallace was my sis, she was Effie. Being a biracial folk, it was a very special moment for me. I didn’t really get to dive into that ethnic story before, if that makes sense.
Attaway: Are there any connections between C.C. and Aladdin?
Greenspan: I think so, actually. Because at the beginning of Dreamgirls, he always wants to write music. But he builds a sort of courage and confidence of his own material and his work throughout the story. It’s the same with Aladdin, mainly because Aladdin knows at the beginning that he wants to make a change. When he finally gets confident with what he’s doing, it becomes him. The Genie helps him realize that. In Dreamgirls, it’s the music that helps him realize that. What about you? Favorite show?
Attaway: It’s a hard question to answer, favorite show, but I would say the most akin to Genie would be Frosty the Snowman. That was definitely a favorite that I did at Casa Mañana in Fort Worth. There’s a lot of similar expectation when it comes to playing Frosty. He’s a beloved character, the story goes way back. He has a built-in fan base with a song and whatever idea of Frosty that you already have. And he’s a magical creature. It was a great introduction to having 10,000 years-worth of power as the Genie.
The Journey to Reunite
Attaway: What was your journey to Broadway? Because we both have one thing in common: that we do not have theatre degrees.
Greenspan: After graduating high school, I got into the School of Drama in OU. But due to some personal stuff, I was unable to attend. In Arlington, I went to a community college and I was playing in bands with my friends. I distanced myself from the whole theatre world. My grandmother told me about this conservatory, KD Conservatory College in Dallas. It’s a 15-month program to get your associate’s degree. I was hesitant. Like, “What am I going to get out of this?” And then I realized that it wasn’t about what I was going to get out of it at that moment. It was about the fact that I needed to be back involved in something that I used to love so much. After that, I started working around Dallas. Then Hot Mikado came along. I did two shows at Dallas Theater Center. Right after Dreamgirls, August 1, 2016, I flew to New York City. I was lucky enough to get an email to come back in for Aladdin because I auditioned a year before. Nothing came out of it until the week I got to New York City. I did the tour and understudied the role. [Director] Casey Nicholaw came to rehearse with the understudies. Afterwards, we went out to the hallway and he said that he wanted me to take over on the tour. So, that was a disgusting emotional moment for me. A year into that, just touring around the country as Aladdin, I got a call on my flight back from Europe saying they wanted me to take over on Broadway. And I couldn’t tell anyone! We had to be on airplane mode. What about you buddy?
Attaway: I got into theatre very young. Singing around age five, theatre by age 10 at Casa Mañana doing classes and things. I took my first trip to New York to see musical theatre. And when I saw Lion King on Broadway—in the same theatre we perform in every night—that was the moment I decided I wanted to do it for a living. I remember the seat that I sat in, in the ninth row on the aisle. And I’ve said it more than once, but I always give that person an extra wink, just in case. I spent a year at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, a.k.a. Roosevelt University. But because of all the years of working as a large child in theatre, being able to be in an ensemble as an adult but not paid, I got the experience of working like a non-Equity actor for my entire life. I didn’t feel I needed to stay at the school. So I came back to Texas, I got my massage therapy license and I began making ends meet. I began doing all of the theatre. I had already made the decision that doing the work was more important than what level I was going to get to do it at.
Replacing the Actors Who Created the Roles
Attaway: With taking over for James [Monroe Iglehart], the Genie is a unique situation where so much of that role is based off of who he is as a person, down to the fact that I have no hair. This look, this Genie signature look was simply James’ look his entire life. It was a unique challenge to create new jokes in the same timing. When I would go on for him and try and do his timing and his jokes, no one would laugh. And so they said, “Major, you have to make it yours, you have to create your own.” I was counting the rhythms of his jokes, and then put my own spin on it. Like, there’s a joke that he made after “Friend Like Me” is over. And he uses a Michael Jackson song. I use a Missy Elliott song. What about you taking over for Adam [Jacobs]?
Greenspan: Towards the beginning of that understudy process for rehearsals and the first few times going on, I felt I needed to do exactly what he did. It took a good while being onstage, not even having anyone tell me but just noticing it for myself being very grateful for, is that the beats that he has, the comedic timing he gave is not going to work for me at all because of the way that I portray certain things as a performer. Right there was when I realized, “Cool, I’m a completely different artist than this guy is, and I can use that.”
Growing Up With Aladdin
Greenspan: What is your connection to Aladdin?
Attaway: You mean way back in the day?
Greenspan: Let’s start with way back in the day. Let’s see what way back in the day has for us.
Attaway: Without exaggeration, I can tell you I probably wore out three VHS tapes.
Attaway: Wore them to the point where they could not be played anymore.
Attaway: With that and Lion King, to be honest. There was something about the power of the Genie. I loved Lion King, but they were all animals. The Genie was the first manifestation of a character that I could envision myself as. I didn’t need to see him as a black man because he was a blue guy with power, and that was magical enough for me at the time. What did you get out of the Aladdin movie as a kid?
Greenspan: First of all, it was clearly a favorite. It’s still on my TV stand in my house in Arlington. And I don’t think my mom is ever going to take it down now.
Attaway: You have to sign it now.
Greenspan: I remember “One Jump Ahead” was one of my favorite things about the movie. I remember I would climb around on my walls and stuff. Now that I think about it, I think my mom would call me Monkey all the time because I loved Abu so much.
Sharing the Stage
Attaway: What do you remember about seeing my first Genie performance? Tell me about myself.
Greenspan: It was 2016. I had just moved to the city. I was in the Aladdin audition process for the tour. We wanted to get tickets to see [your] debut as the standby going on for the first time ever. It was just crazy just seeing how comfortable [you were].
Attaway: I was not. I was not comfortable, but go ahead. Sounds good.
Greenspan: After that, I saw your debut taking over for the Genie. And it was truly a moving moment for me because in that amount of time, you saw a person make so many discoveries and just find so much out about himself. There was freedom. There was a new level of respect, there was a new level of power, energy, that you exposed on that stage. I get chills.
Attaway: That was 11 months. My first performance, and then taking over for James.
Greenspan: Tell us about that moment you found out you were going to Broadway.
Attaway: It feels like it starts with the first time I saw any clip of the show. I hadn’t seen any piece of it until the Tony Awards in 2014. as James did “Friend Like Me,” I said, “Oh, I’m going to do that.” I didn’t say, “Oh, I can do that,” I said, “Oh, I’m going to do that.” I had been waiting my whole life to be in a Disney show on Broadway. Fast forward to a paid production of Hands on a Hardbody at Theatre Three in Dallas, Texas. The writer Doug Wright is also from Texas, so he came to see our performance. Casual conversation after the show: “Hey Major, what do you want to do?” “I want to be the Genie in Aladdin.” Two months later, he sends me an email. “Hey Major, just had lunch with my friend Tom Schumacher. They were talking about Genies and I dropped your name. Who knows what’ll happen.”
Greenspan: Now here we are.
Attaway: Here we are. Do you have any pre-show rituals, by the way?
Greenspan: I have little motivational quotes that I put on my mirror that change out every single day. I do some breathing rag doll exercises just to get my body loosened up before.
Attaway: Mine is about getting back that proper energy ritual. I usually have to listen to a particular type of music. Funk… things that have high brass or a high amount of energy… because I’m the most chill Genie of all of us [around the world].
Greenspan: What do you love most about performing with me?
Attaway: Your abs. [Laughs] Oh man. What I love most about performing with you, Clinton, is where we are in our journey, to be honest. Because what we’re learning from each other is so different than what have learned from the people we’ve replaced. It’s nice for us to be in a similar place energy-wise on a regular basis.
Greenspan: It’s the same for me. I’ll never forget the first time I felt comfortable enough to tell him, “Hey, I’m having an off day today.” He told me, “Take your time. I’m there with you.” That’s something that I tell myself every single time I go onstage with him.
A Different Disney Duo
Greenspan: I actually thought about this. Don’t hate me.
Attaway: I won’t.
Greenspan: The friendship that grows into Buzz and Woody.
Attaway: I love it. Falling with style. Yes.
Greenspan: I’d be Woody.
Attaway: He wants to be Buzz, but he’s Woody. For me…if I had to choose. Robin Hood and Little John. I want us to cover that song.