“Aladdin” opened on Broadway on March 20, making this weekend the six-month anniversary of the latest stage musical from Disney. We spent an evening behind the scenes with Adam Jacobs, the former “Lion King” lead who now stars in Aladdin.
Here’s what an evening looks like in his shoes:
Jacobs arrives at the theater after what he describes as “a light dinner,” now toting a medium-sized Oren’s Daily Roast cafe au lait with almond milk. He enters through the stage door, located on 41st Street behind the New Amsterdam Theatre, and adds his autograph to the cast’s sign-in sheet.
Jacobs greets director/choreographer Casey Nicolaw, who’s come to see the show. It’s been about a month since the two have seen each other; Nicolaw comes by intermittently to conduct business, check on the show’s progress or schedule brush-up rehearsals for the cast.
Inside his personal dressing room (Room 5), Jacobs begins his nightly ritual. It involves some quick exercise to get the blood flowing and then vocal warm-ups. As he sits to begin his makeup — which he does in street clothes, first, before getting into costume midway through — he’s looked down on by several images of his wife, actress Kelly Jacobs, and their 7-month-old twin sons.
It takes Jacobs about 15 minutes to get into his costume with the help of his dresser, Gary. A crucial step is securing his signature red fez, which requires four clips and 12 bobby pins to stay in place: “I want it snug —I do flips, rolls, go upside down,” the actor explains of his stunts in the first act, while he’s still just a “street rat.” There’s about 10 minutes set aside for makeup — including Maui Babe Browning Lotion over his chest and arms to make it look like he spends his days in the Arabian sun. “I’m gonna get this for free now,” he jokes, after raving about his must-have beauty product.
The stage manager calls “places,” so Jacobs has to leave us to get in position in the wings. Right before going on, he tells us, the cast usually takes a minute to wish each other a good show. We asked if he still gets nervous, even after six months. He said, “I get nervous if I don’t get nervous. I use that energy to get me going. But every night, when I hear that first downbeat, I get butterflies in my stomach.”
We watch from the back of the house —behind orchestra seating —as Aladdin first appears onstage during the “Arabian Nights” opening number, led by Tony Award-winning James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie, as well as the rest of the cast. Jacobs is onstage for most of Act I — minus the palace scenes with Jasmine (Courtney Reed), the Sultan (Clifton Davis) and Jafar (Jonathan Freeman, who also voiced the villainous vizier in the original film). The only number he doesn’t join in Act I —out of 10, not including the overture — is “These Palace Walls,” a number between Jasmine and her handmaids.
It’s intermission, so we head backstage to learn what happens during this pivotal 15-minute break. Jacobs is in his dressing room with Gary helping him get into his jacket. Other than touch up makeup and change clothes, Jacobs might do a little juggling to help him focus his mind. He used to juggle in the show, but it was later edited out.
We talk about the first act. He says it feels good. It’s pretty routine by now, but, “James will throw in some improv, he keeps me on my toes. Iago, Don Darryl Rivera, too —he does little faces. And audience reactions aren’t always the same. When there’s kids, for example, after the magic carpet [Courtney and I] kiss and get ‘Oooooh.’” We talk about his fans of all ages, and how they communicate with him through mail and online, while he shows us some of the trinkets and fan act he’s collected. We ask: Which is his favorite part of the night? Is it already over or is he still looking forward to it? Jacobs says he likes doing “Friend Like Me” in Act I, but also “A Whole New World” in Act II. Ultimately, he likes the character development and all of the action in Act I: “It’s like being shot out of a cannon."
Intermission is almost over. So what happens now? “Usually Courtney comes in and starts bothering me," Jacobs jokes. "But we’ll switch it up and go to her.” We head upstairs to the actress’s dressing room, which is fit for a princess. Reed confirms that she and Jacobs like to hang out during intermissions: “It’s the only time we ever get to chat,” she says. Although they’re onstage together a few times, they’re on very different tracks and don’t actually get to say hello or talk during the first half of the show. Reed shows us some of her fan art, which takes up much more of her décor than Jacobs’ —prompting us to ask, which one of you is more popular? They exchange a glance and start laughing. “She is definitely more popular,” admits Jacobs. “She’s a Disney princess!” Reed tells us that they get about five physical pieces of mail each day, allowing her to reply to them personally — which she’s doing right now. “I meant to ask you to get me a Playbill,” Reed tells Jacobs. They have some signed copies put aside to mail out, if requested. “We try to write back to everyone,” they tell us.
Act II begins with the spectacular “Prince Ali.” Jacobs later tells us that he’s just backstage in his throne the entire time, and he gets to watch all of the quick changes that take place as the ensemble plays out multiple parts of the prince’s entourage. All told, there are 58 costume changes that take place in under a minute in “Aladdin.” That’s more than half — there are 108 costume changes overall.
“A Whole New World” concludes. We’re not allowed backstage at this point, because there’s some Disney magic happening to get that carpet to soar through the air. But that’s fine, because it means we get to watch from the house. Who wants to know these kinds of secrets, anyway? The fun is in not knowing. The crowd is blatantly awed when the carpet takes off.
After the carpet lands safely again, we head backstage for some in-the-wings moments with the blessing and guidance of stage manager Jimmy. Right now, Jacobs has his only break in Act II. It’s 4.5 minutes, and he gets to watch as Aladdin’s three thieving friends break into the palace to rescue him. “This is my favorite number to watch,” he confides. He even joins the ensemble to sing during the chorus.
Jacobs shows us a few of the props while we’re waiting for his next entrance, like a loaf of bread: “I don’t need to steal this anymore, now that I’m a prince. Wrong costume,” he jokes. He points to his Prince Ali throne, and we ask if he’ll be taking it home whenever the show ends (it’s currently on an open-ended run, and it’s not expected to leave anytime soon). “I would give it to my wife and rub her feet,” he says. “She’s the queen.” He would need to affix two bassinets for his newly born twins, he admits.
Jacobs is about to go back onstage. Right now Aladdin is locked up in the dungeon, with magic handcuffs that “don’t always open when the Genie unlocks them,” he confides, citing that as one of the little “bloopers” that might happen during a show. He checks his appearance in a mirror that’s mounted on the wall backstage for this very reason, then goes to get locked into the device by some stagehands.
Act II winds toward its climax and happily ever after. Jacobs takes the final bow at curtain call, then has the rest of the cast join him. Everyone bounds offstage energetically — another successful show concludes.
Jacobs is back in his street clothes and cleaned up. He leaves through the stage door, where fans have gathered and waited patiently for autographs on their programs and Playbills. Actors come out with their own Sharpies, prepared. (The doorman keeps one in black, silver and gold in his suit pocket as well — just in case.) Jacobs is efficient, but takes the time to talk to the fans —especially one small, shy child up front with his parents. Then everyone is done for the night —Jacobs heads home to rest up, because tomorrow is a double show day, and it’ll soon be time to do it all over again.
For more theater news and reviews, follow T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy.