Tuesday, 7 June 2011

There's So Much More To Me

When Adam Jacobs was first announced as Aladdin in the upcoming Aladdin: The New Stage Musical in Seattle, I contacted him to congratulate him and also to ask if he would be willing to do an interview for this blog.  To my great surprise and delight, he graciously accepted, so now I am honored to be able to present an interview with Adam Jacobs;

Hi Adam,

Firstly just let me say thanks again for agreeing to do this interview, I really appreciate you taking the time to interact with the fans in this way.

Obviously with the show still being in rehearsals, there are a lot of things you can’t talk about yet, so I’ll try and keep the questions from asking for any specific details about the plot and the new songs!

When you agreed to the interview you said that this show is a childhood passion for you, and (if my math is right!) your move from being a young concert pianist to performing in community theatre occurred around the same time as Disney’s musical renaissance period. Did the Disney musicals influence your desire to perform, or was it your passion for musical theatre that attracted you to the classic Disney musicals?

I was always a huge fan of the Disney movies of Aladdin, The Lion King, The Jungle Book, etc.  I also have a sister who is four years younger than me and she just loved The Little Mermaid and Cinderella growing up, so I got a heavy dose of Disney early on.  I'm sure on some deep unconscious level the movies pointed me towards the world of musical theater.  The movies are inherently theatrical anyway, and the animation is so imaginative that they're hard to resist.  

Did you have a favorite Disney film growing up? Has that changed as you got older, or is your childhood favorite still your favorite today? It’s ok, you don’t have to say Aladdin ;)

I remember loving the character of Mowgli in Jungle Book, probably because I was such a scrawny looking kid at that age and he looked like me.  I watched that one over and over. And then when I saw Aladdin, I thought he was the coolest character in all of the Disney films. To this day he has always been my favorite Disney hero.  

How did you come to be involved in the initial readings/workshops and what did they involve?

I did a reading of Aladdin in NYC back in November of last year.  At the time I had no idea it was in the works, and when I heard they specifically wanted to use me for the role of Aladdin, I was very excited and felt honored just to get the call.  So Disney pulled me from the Lion King tour in order to do the week long reading, and then flew me back out to the tour after it was done. They originally told us it was going to be just an informal table read for the people at the Disney office, but it ended up turning into quite a little production complete with body microphones and live musicians.  It was quite nerve wracking seeing Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's family sitting there along with the heads of Disney Theatricals!

Having already played the role in the workshop, what was the audition process like for the Seattle production?

I had to fly back in again from the LK tour to audition for the Seattle production mainly because Casey Nicholaw had not seen the reading and as the director, he needed to sign off on me.  Luckily he liked my audition and I was given the role.

How did you learn that you had got the part and what was your reaction?

I was ecstatic when my agent gave me the news.  It was one of those things where you want it so bad that you have to work really hard to put it out of your mind.  (I purposely try to forget about auditions once they're over as sort of a coping mechanism in case I don't get it.  Once it's out of my hands, I like to move on to the next thing)  So even though I was trying to concentrate on doing my job back on the road as Simba, I was still hoping that it would work out with Aladdin.  So upon hearing the news, it was a combination of excitement and relief that I wouldn't have to feel the extreme disappointment of not getting it!

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, Photo by Mark Kitaoka
How are the rehearsals going? The first official picture of you as Aladdin has been released (and I have to say the costume looks fantastic), so are you doing dress rehearsals now?

Yeah doesn't the costume look cool?  I just love the new patch work on the vest.  We still have a month of rehearsals.  We're through the first act and hope to run through it tomorrow.  Rehearsals are going very well.  It's going to be tough to have Casey gone for a bunch of days next week for the Tony Awards (which I think he'll win for Book of Mormon!) but we'll survive somehow :)

The cast is made up of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, from an original film cast member to Seattle stage regulars and Broadway stars, what’s it like working with such a diverse group of talented performers?

I feel very lucky to be a part of this cast.  Hearing Jonathan Freeman's voice still gives me chills during rehearsals.  I saw Brandon O'Neill, who's playing Kassim, rock it out last week as Sky Masterson in 5th Ave's Guys and Dolls. The ensemble in this show is especially strong and they are dancing their butts off!  Get ready for some spectacular dance numbers!

Ok, complete fan question now! What’s it like to work with Alan Menken, given that he’s something of a living Disney legend?

Alan, like Casey, is full of energy and just fun to be around.  They both make the creative process feel like play time.  I was really nervous at first, but I think I've gotten a hold of it now.

What’s it like hearing the previously unreleased Howard Ashman songs brought to life, and how does to feel to be responsible for bringing them to life?
(I know you can’t comment but this is the part where I have to say I really hope Proud of Your Boy is in the show!)  

Without giving too much away, I'm "proud" to say that I get to sing some pretty great songs in the show...  I'm actually a part of 11 different numbers (with only a line or two in about half of them).  Good luck trying to figure that one out!  

There’s been a lot of talk about this show going back to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s original vision of Aladdin being a like a Hope and Crosby road movie with a jazz-cabaret tone. How much of a difference is there between the original classic and this production? Are the overall character arcs and motivations the same, or are we in for some surprises next month?

You are correct in that the character arcs and motivations are the same, with a few extra layers in my case.  The surprises will come in the form, function and overall tone.  I can't really say too much more on this, but I think the audience will be in for a treat.

With the changes, how much freedom have you been given in creating the character of Aladdin for stage?

Because it's a new show, I've been given a lot of freedom.  Lines, bits and blocking are changing all the time, and we're still making discoveries as we go.  It's very gratifying to have all the creatives there and the feeling of working together to find what works best.

Adam Jacobs as Simba, Photo by Joan Marcus
How does the experience of originating a role differ from taking over an established role, such as Simba in The Lion King?

Like I said above, it's extremely gratifying to be in a production from the ground up.  You're attributed a lot of freedom to create and really make something your own.   If something isn't working, there's a good chance it can be changed. 

How do you prepare before a show? Do you have any routines or superstitions that you do before you go on stage each night?

Each routine for a show is different for me.  With Simba, I had 30 minutes in the make up chair during Act I to sort of meditate and get into character, followed by a set warm up routine which I had to tailor to that particular show.  Once we open this show, I'll discover what I need to do get ready for it.  I'm not terribly superstitious, but I don't like to press my luck either. You won't find me whistling backstage or anything like that.  Nobody wants to tempt fate to drop a sandbag on your head, right?

 Ok, total long shot but worth asking; do you know if there’s any chance of Disney/5th Avenue releasing a Cast Recording of this production?

I would love it, but I find it highly doubtful.  I had Cameron Mackintosh tell me once after opening night of Les Miserables on Broadway when I presented him with the same question that,  "cast albums and recordings just don't make the money they used to."   If Aladdin ever goes to Broadway then I think they would do it (and I hope I get to do 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?

On my website bio (shameless plug- www.AdamLJacobs.com) I talk about a show that greatly impacted me as a young adult.  I had the privilege of playing "Young Harvey" in San Francisco's documentary opera of Harvey Milk when I was 17.  I was shown how theater not only has the power to entertain and bring joy, but also to make you question and give you a different perspective on life.  That show in particular made me want to continue to work in the theater.    And of course, getting my Broadway debut in Les Miserables, and feeling that excitement coursing through my veins at the downbeat of the overture, will always be an experience I will never forget.  

Adam, thank you again for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

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