When he was a kid, James Monroe Iglehart wished to be a Disney character. When he was 17, he wanted to be the Genie in Aladdin. Now at 39, he’s getting all his wishes.
Disney Theatrical Productions on Monday announced the full Broadway-bound cast of the new musical, with Iglehart in the role made famous by Robin Williams, who lent his manic voice to the big blue Genie in the 1992 animated version of Aladdin.
“It took three wishes from the time I was 4 to 39,” said Iglehart. “I can’t wait. I am looking forward to this challenge but truthfully I want to have as much fun as I can and ride this bad boy out as far as I can.”
Iglehart previously played singer Bobby in the Tony Award-winning Memphis, a role he originated, and made his Broadway debut as a replacement in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He also played opposite Ashanti in a production of The Wiz in 2009.
Iglehart, who counts Robin Williams among his favorite comedians, will be taking a different approach onstage than his hero. “It’s a little bit of Cab Calloway. It’s a little Fats Waller. And it’s a lot of me,” he said.
“I’ve loved this role since I was 17 and I first saw the cartoon. I just wanted to come at it a little bit different. It would be stupid to try and recreate Robin Williams,” he said. “I know to re-create someone’s work is like performing suicide.”
He’ll be joined by Adam Jacobs in the title role, adding to his Broadway credits that includes Marius in Les Misérables and Simba in The Lion King. Jasmine will be portrayed by Courtney Reed, a veteran of In the Heights and Mamma Mia!
As Jafar, actor Jonathan Freeman will be a strong link to the 1992 animated film. Freeman, who has been in Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid, was the voice of the evil Jafar in the film, too.
Aladdin, with songs by Alan Menken, will be directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw, whose previous hits include The Book of Mormon and The Drowsy Chaperone. Bob Crowley, who has a Tony for Mary Poppins, will design the sets, and Chad Beguelin has written the story and some lyrics.
The show will feature a 34-member cast, new songs by Menken and magic tricks. It will first be staged at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre this November until Jan. 5, before it rides a magic carpet to Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre and opens next year.
Iglehart recently checked the weather forecast next month in Canada and it said he should expect temperatures of minus-5. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’ve never seen minus-anything!’ So I’m a little nervous about that, but I’ve been wanting to go to Canada for many, many years. So I’m looking forward to it.”
The Aladdin story centers on a commoner who falls for the free-spirited Princess Jasmine and has his life change with one rub of a magic lamp. Iglehart said the stage version will be distinct from the movie version, in the same way “The Lion King” onstage is vastly different from the film.
“It’s going to be its own thing,” he said. “I think people are going to totally love it.”