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10 Things You May Not Know: James Monroe Iglehart of ‘Aladdin’

Category Broadway

|by Karu Daniels |


Nearing his first decade on Broadway, the Tony and Grammy winner is still wowing masses as one of Disney’s most dazzling characters

Two years into it, James Monroe Iglehart is still reveling in what he calls the role of a lifetime: Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, which is still playing to sell-out crowds at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre.

It’s a dream fulfilled for the former stand-up comic who starred in the musicals The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Memphis on The Great White Way. For his star role as the flashy and flamboyant wish-fulfiller, he swept the awards season, winning Tony and Drama Desk awards along the way.

“I’m enjoying myself thoroughly,” he told us. “It’s been two years and now it just feels like home, but don’t get me wrong, it still feels like an opening night performance every night because I want to give that. I still get nervous, but I’m like, ‘Yes, I got this.’ It’s pretty fun.”

Below, the Hayward, California-bred natural funnyman offer unknown insights about acting when he was a tyke, comedy inspirations, fighting over cupcakes, the bond he shares with a Hamilton star and his love of comic books.

James Monroe Iglehart of ‘Aladdin’ performs at Stars in the Alley 2016 (Photo: Amy Sapp)

James Monroe Iglehart of ‘Aladdin’ performs at Stars in the Alley 2016 (Photo: Amy Sapp)

My childhood acting experience helped shaped my professional moniker
My father did a film in the 70s called Death Force, which is now called Fighting Mad — I was in it at four years old and they put my name on the screen. I was 18 in college and I saw it and I was like, ‘James Monroe Iglehart, I’m going to put the whole name now.’ I used to just go by James Iglehart, but once I saw how it looked with all three names together I was like, ‘I’m going to go by that.’ Besides, my family calls me James Monroe. They’re all from the south, so they have to say both names first and middle.

My comedic timing is innate
I’ve just been in love with comedians since I was a kid. I love everybody from Bill Cosby to Chris Rock to Richard Pryor to Robin Williams to George Carlin to Whoopi Goldberg to John Leguizamo. I have loved comedians all my life and all my favorite cartoons are all comic cartoons, whether it be Looney Tunes with Bugs Bunny or the Disney versions of Goofy and Donald Duck. I am a huge comedy person and my family is pretty funny. I was raised in a family full of musicians and comedians and sports people and when you’re raised in that type of environment, everybody tries to top each other, so the fact that I’m funny comes from them. A lot of my family is funnier than I am, but I’m just the one that pursued it.

I can always count on my Tony Award to be a quick pick-me-up
We came back to New York to do Aladdin, my wife and I got this new apartment and we finally bought some real furniture. Last time I was here we bought some Rent-A-Center furniture and I bought some real furniture and I got this oak TV holder and so my Tony sits on top of that, so when I look at the TV or whenever I feel depressed, I can look up and be like, “Oh, right. I have a Tony. I should probably put a smile on my face.”

Doing The Wiz remains special to me
I had a great time in The Wiz. I mean, it’s one of my favorite shows. It was the show when I was a little kid that got me interested in musical theater. I was a huge fan of Ted Ross, so I loved it. I had the movie and knew it by heart like most African-American kids who love music and love The Wiz — you know, Michael Jackson was in it, so you go see it for Michael and when you get there you start loving everybody else like Mabel King and Nipsey Russell and everybody. When I got to do it, it was fun because I knew that me and my boys, Christian Dante White and Joshua Henry didn’t have big names at the time, so we were just hoping that someone would notice us because we knew everybody was coming to see LaChanze, Tichina Arnold, Orlando Jones and Ashanti, so when we were there it was great. How I feel about Kenny Leon bringing it back to Broadway? I think it’s awesome. I think the show deserves to be back on Broadway and I loved what they did on the NBC special, so I’m hoping they either do that or make it bigger for the Broadway audience.

I’m a comic book fan boy at heart
My favorite thing to do in the city when I’m not working is probably hanging around Midtown Comics on 40th Street. I’m a big comic book nerd, so I love to hang out up there, buy my comic books, then go onto 44th to John’s Pizza and then take my behind home. Take my comics and my pizza home and kick it. The funny thing is I like both DC and Marvel, the problem is, and this is really nerdy, Marvel makes better movies, DC makes better cartoons. But, they both make great comic books, so I read them both. I read everything from Batman to Spider-Man to Captain America to Iron Man to SupermanThe Flash – I read them all. Anthony Mackie, I’d like to meet him some day because he as amazing as Falcon.

The key to being Genie
The challenge of the role is that it’s very vigorous. It’s like being shot out of a cannon. Once you are on stage you are on and you are constantly at a high-energy pace from the moment you start and I have to keep myself well hydrated, I have to get lots of sleep. I have to make sure my voice is well-rested, but also warmed up. The main thing is just the wear and tear of doing it every single night at that high of a pace. I have a wonderful vocal coach, named Liz Caplan, who I go see every Thursday and she’s wonderful. She makes sure that my voice stays the way it is and my muscles in my voice stay the way they are. I make sure that I am on a high protein diet because I’m a bigger guy, so I have to stay big because it’s kind of fun watching a big guy do a cartwheel. Watching a skinny guy do a cartwheel, you’re not really that impressed and I’ve got to make sure I have tons of water in me. Make sure I get at least 7 and a half hours of sleep, 8 is what I would really like, but if I can get 7 and a half I’ll take that. Also, I do my best to get to the gym at least twice a week. What I mean by that is I’m on a bike, I am not a muscle gym rat, but I like to get on the bike and do my stuff. I also say my lines and stuff on the bike. Also, I do “Friend Like Me” in my head every single night before I do a show. I do a mock version of it in my dressing room every night before the show just to keep myself fresh to know what I’m going to do.

I will fight someone over a cupcake
My guiltiest pleasure is probably eating sweets and one of my favorite places to go is this place called Molly’s on Bleecker Street. It’s a cupcake place and literally I will fight someone for those cupcakes. They have a peach cobbler cupcake that is to die for. They have a salted caramel cupcake that is to die for. Both my wife and I, that’s our guilty pleasure if we can go over there, and also, Levain Cookies. Yes, just giant hockey pucks of dough and chocolate chips. It’s just beautiful. I won’t lie, there was a time when we’d actually gotten Molly’s cupcakes and Levain cookies and gone home. We spread them out through the whole week. We don’t eat them all in one night typically, but we have done that.

Why I love my wife
The one thing I cannot live without is my wife. Actually, it wasn’t love at first sight; it was best friendship at first sight. We met in high school in our high school show choir and she was a student of my mom’s for a long time in her junior high and when we met, we already knew of each other and we just clicked. We just became really, really good friends. We didn’t start dating until college because I kept telling my mom, “I wish I could find a girl like Dawn.” My mom was like, “Idiot, why don’t you marry Dawn?” I was like, “No, she’s my friend.” It finally hit me and I was like, “Dawn, do you like me?” She’s like, “I like you.” I was like, “Great, let’s date.” Next thing you know, here we are 14 years later. We’ve been married for 14 wonderful years. When I go home, I am not the bundle of energy they see on stage or out and about. Once I get home, I just kind of calm down and become real chill and I think it’s because once I’m at home, because Dawn knows me and we’ve known each other so long, it’s kind of like we have mental telepathy, we really don’t have to talk. She knows she can read my mood and read my body language and know how I’m feeling, so I’m real chill at home.

When I get home, I’m the opposite of my genie character in Aladdin
When I go home, I am not the bundle of energy they see on stage or out and about. Once I get home, I just kind of calm down and become real chill and I think it’s because once I’m at home, because my wife knows me and we’ve known each other so long, it’s kind of like we have mental telepathy, we really don’t have to talk. She knows she can read my mood and read my body language and know how I’m feeling, so I’m real chill at home.

I was the Best Man for one of the stars of Hamilton
Christopher Jackson and I met years ago and he’s one of my dearest friends. I was the best man at his wedding to Veronica, who is a lovely woman and Chris is such a presence and most people do not mess with Chris because you don’t. He’s a sweet guy, great heart, wonderful spirit, but he’s also got a very serious face and he can look at you and shut people down. I’ve seen it happen. I just take pride in breaking that seriousness whenever I can and I take pride in coming at him and messing with him and teasing him as many times as I can. When we’re together people would think we hate each other because we talk to each other like dogs. We play the dozens all the time and I love it and I love messing with him because I know nobody else does and I think he loves it because he knows nobody else does. That’s my boy right there.

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