Tonight, I'm very happy to be able to present an interview with the one and only James Monroe Iglehart!
Gotta admit I was a bit nervous about doing this one as I'd never even dreamed of interviewing anyone before I did the interview with Adam Jacobs earlier this month, and if you've ever watched James' Youtube show you'll know he's something of a natural at interviewing people! If you haven't, make sure you check out the James Monroe Iglehart Show, it's a fantastic show and after watching it I can see why he was cast as the Genie, he's just a perfect fit for the part. Anyway, that's enough from me! Let's hear from James!
How did you originally get into musical theatre, and who (or what) would you say have been your biggest influences?
I got into musicals because my parents introduced me to them. My mom is a music teacher and my father was an actor in the 1970’s so acting and singing was something I just always loved doing and we went to musicals all the time. I would say I got serious about being in musicals in high school, I was in show choir for 2 years and the school musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown I played Charlie Brown, that confused some folks, but I had a greatest time. So when I went to college I majored in theatre and have been doing it ever since.
My biggest influences are probably my parents but as far as Musical theatre folks go I really looked up to Ted Ross, Ken Paige and Chuck Cooper they all had amazing voices and unmatched comic timing. Both of which I aspire to every day of my life!
You’re best known for playing the role of "Big Love" Bobby in Memphis and you have a long history with the show. What is it about the role that’s kept you coming back to the show for over 5 years? And will you be going back to Memphis after your turn in Aladdin?
What kept me coming back was that I loved the show very much and it was my first time originating a role so I promised myself I would ride on the Memphis train as long as I could, thankfully the tracks led to Broadway. Yes I will be going back to Memphis after Aladdin. Thankfully the producers of Memphis gave me a leave of absence to be a part of Aladdin and I’m very grateful they did I’m having a best time!
|James Monroe Iglehart as Bobby in Memphis|
Do you remember Aladdin from its original release? Were you a fan of the Disney classic before you got the part?
Do I remember the Aladdin release, was I a fan? Ha! Heck yes and Heck yes! I was 17 in 1992 when the film came out and I went that first weekend to see it with my mom and I have loved it ever since! I have been a fan of the Genie since that day. I have all the Aladdin movies, watched the television series regularly and saw the Disney California Adventure version of the musical in its first year! So to say I’m a fan is an understatement!
How did you come to be involved with Aladdin? Did you take part in the original reading or did you audition for the Seattle production? What was the process like?
I became a part of the project just through a regular audition process for the Seattle production. I didn’t even know there had been a reading until after the auditions were going on.
Now I remember seeing the original announcement that the production was being brought to Seattle on Broadway.com. I heard that they had been auditioning guys 2 weeks before I got the call to come in and I knew some of the guys that were being seen for Genie. And being such a fan of the movie I was just praying that they would call me in too. But I figured well I guess they don’t know me well enough to call me in but in my heart I was screaming "I hope they call me in!" and thank God they finally did. After that the process was pretty standard, first audition for the director and casting director then a call back 2 weeks later for the whole creative team.
When did you learn you’d been successful and what was your reaction to the news?
I found out 4 hours after the call back that I got the role, I was on 6th avenue in NY getting my contact lenses replaced when my agent called and told me and I screamed right outside the store!
What attracted you to the role of the Genie?
To be honest I love magic and I love Robin Williams, which is funny because I don’t play the Genie like him at all! Yet when I first saw the film I told my mother right after Friend Like Me "I hope I get to be part of something like that someday!" Talk about a prayer being answered!
The role of Genie is so full of silliness and at the same time he really cares for his friends and I act like that all the time. I’m also a big fan of being able to break the 4th Wall so to actually get to be in a show like that is a dream come true!
How are rehearsals going? Andrew Keenan-Bolger tweeted that "Friend Like Me" may be the biggest production number ever staged! Sounds like you’re going to be bringing down the house!
Friend Like Me is something to see and that is all I’m saying but rehearsals are going very well! Casey and our creative team are the best. Our cast is so talented I think folks are going to be shocked and happy!
From everything that’s been said about changing the tone back to the forties jazz-cabaret style originally envisioned by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, it seems to be implied that of all the characters from the film, the Genie is the one who’s changed the most, and the one thing we do know is not to expect a Robin Williams impersonation. How liberating has it been to be able to put your own spin on the role and what can you tell us about the Genie in this production?
It’s the best feeling in the world and a great weight off my shoulders! I love Robin Williams. I have seen all of his concerts and most of his films! He is in my top 10 favorite comedians, the man is one of a kind and no one could replace or copy him so I was very pleased when I was told to put my own spin on this role. I try to stay true to the essence of the character in the film but just doing it through my style!
One of the main reasons for re-working the story has been to include the "lost" Howard Ashman songs. Since both of Howard’s Genie songs survived in the finished film, can we expect some completely new songs for Genie?
There is one new song for the Genie.
Silly question time! Is Genie still blue? If so, how long will you have to spend in make-up before the show?
Actually they are still working out the details of that so you will have to wait and see!
You’re no stranger to shows that start out in regional theatre and go on to huge Broadway success, and whilst it’s still early days there is clearly a lot of interest in this show. I know the show was announced as a pilot production with the intention of licensing it out, but given the high level of interest is there any feeling amongst the cast and crew that this show could be destined for bigger things and maybe one day reach Broadway? And, if so, could we see you in blue again?
Well I would love to see there being a future with the show but as of right now if there are plans to move it further they have not told this Genie!
How do you prepare before a show? Do you have any superstitions or routines that you do before you go on stage each night?
Actually I go over all my lines and lyrics every night before the show. You see a few years ago I got cocky and didn’t do that and just blanked on stage in front of a live audience so now I never forget to do it! Even though I have been with Memphis forever I still do it just to keep me humble and on my toes! I also hold a prayer circle every night at 5 min to places for all those that want to participate and I mean anyone!
Looking to the future, do you have any dream roles that you would love to do?
You know not anymore. I’m looking forward to hopefully being in more new shows and creating new roles. I have been blessed to play all of the roles I have loved since I was a child. I wouldn’t mind getting in on writing new material too. But I will say if I ever get the opportunity to play Harold Hill in the Music Man I would jump on it!
And finally, looking back over your career so far, do any moments or performances really stand out as something truly special that you’ll always remember?
Yes many but the ones that jump out first are the first time I saw my name on a Broadway poster that show being 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Then opening Memphis on Broadway and crying after we performed on the Tony’s! And last but not least the day I was able to write on my tax returns under occupation ACTOR was the best day of my career! HA!
James, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been a pleasure. All the best for the show!
Thank you so much for this opportunity and again thank you for all your support!