As a kid growing up in Texas, Major Attaway dreamed of voicing Mr. Moviefone. While we wouldn’t mind hearing his velvety vocals listing movie times, audiences are much luckier to hear that sumptuous sound eight times a week as he grants wishes in Agrabah as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway.
Growing up as a “Casa kid” at Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas, Attaway traveled to New York City with the troupe when he realized he wanted to pursue theatre. “I saw The Lion King for the first time when I was ten years old, and now I’m working at the same exact theatre,” says Attaway of the New Amsterdram Theatre where Lion King premiered and Aladdin currently plays. “I still know where I sat. I can show you my seat in the ninth row on the aisle.”
Before making his Broadway debut—first as the standby for original Genie James Monroe Iglehart and now taking on the role full time—Attaway made his professional debut at Jubilee Theatre when he was 16. He went on to play such roles as Ronald in Hands on a Hardbody, Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, Jim in Big River, Collins in Rent, plus Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Booker T. Washington in different productions of Ragtime. Here, the actor takes us through his repertoire book (watch him sing “I’m a Great Big Baby,” “My Friends,” and “A Piece of the Action,” in the video above), and the story behind booking his Broadway bow:
What songs were in your book in your earliest days auditioning?
I have a Spotify list of my audition songs. “Twisted” is a jazz song that I also used for Ain’t Misbehavin’ and any time I have a jazz show. “At the Fountain,” “Sailing,” pretty much anything that Norm Lewis has sung, or Michael Cerveris, or Brian Stokes Mitchell. I’ve done “Man of La Mancha”; “Impossible Dream,” that’s a standard; the big black guy standard, which is “Old Man River”; “Big Black Man” from Full Monty… I would audition with “Minnie the Moocher,” [by] Cab Calloway. “If I Sing,” that has been in my book [forever]. It’s from the musical Closer Than Ever. The song tells its own story about a father and a son and I’ve used that a lot in auditions and competitions.
What made you latch on to that song?
Usually when I’m auditioning for a show and I need to pick maybe two songs—up tempo and a ballad—I try to make sure the two songs tell a story together that are somewhat similar to the characters in the show that I’m auditioning for.
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What’s an example of a pair of songs you sing together to tell one story?
I might do “If I Sing” paired with “I’ve Got Rhythm” because in “If I Sing” the music is leaving and in “I’ve Got Rhythm” the music is everything and here. The theme across both is the music is everything, but in that two-minute audition that’s a little bit more of an arc to create and something to be drawn into.
You booked Ain’t Misbehavin’ with “I’m a Great Big Baby” and you booked Les Misérables with “My Friends.” How did “A Piece of the Action” lead to Aladdin?
I sang “A Piece of the Action” for my audition for Hands on a Hardbody. This was at Theatre 3 in Dallas, Texas and the writer, Doug Wright, is from Texas. He came to see our production at Theatre 3 because that was his home theatre. In casual conversation he said, “What do you wanna do?” And I said, “I want to be the Genie from Aladdin.” He wrote the book for The Little Mermaid for Broadway and he was the person who passed my name up the ladder.
Is there a song out there you haven’t sung that you want to?
It’s not a new find, but one of my dream roles is Max Bialystock in The Producers. I would love to sing “The King of Broadway” and I haven’t gotten a chance to.
Special thanks to Logan Culwell-Block for his piano accompaniment in the video above.