As Broadway Across America enchants Houston with the touring production of Disney’s Aladdin, I was fortunate to speak to Jerald Vincent, who plays the Sultan in this mesmerizing musical. Aladdin is brought to thrilling theatrical life in this bold new musical that will sweep audiences into an exotic world full of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance — and Vincent has the inside scoop.
Over the course of his career, Vincent has played regal roles including Nubian King Amanassaro in Aida, as well as being the first and — so far — only Black person to play the role of Beast in Beauty and the Beast: The Musical, so stepping into the role of Sultan practically comes natural to him.
“I have the kind of gravitas on stage that warrants those types of authoritative roles,” he said. “I played the Nubian king in Aida, and I think this role was just right for me.”
Aladdin, adapted from the Academy Award-winning animated Disney film and centuries-old folktales including “One Thousand and One Nights,” is brought to fresh theatrical life in this bold new musical. Aladdin’s journey sweeps audiences into an exotic world of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance.
“What I love about this show is that nobody does what Disney does like they can do it,” Vincent explained. “There’s over 350 costumes in the show made with 2000 different fabrics, made in 24 different shops all over the world. The show is a wonderful love story between these two young adults. Aladdin just wants to make his mother proud, and our Genie is just fantastic. His name’s Major Attaway; he’s actually from Dallas; actually Aladdin is from Texas as well, so we’ve got a few Texans coming to town.”
When asked about the diversity in casting for the show, and theatre in general, Vincent was pleased with the direction that he’s seen the industry moving.
“I have been around for a long time, and Disney has been at the forefront of multicultural casting, and I love it that they want their shows to look more like America,” he proclaimed. “When you see this show, you’ll see every color under the rainbow, which is fantastic. And for me, as an African American, especially with darker skin that’s nothing like the Disney movie that everybody’s seen, as Jasmine’s father, lets you know that Disney goes for people who can actually do the role.”
It may come as a surprise for some, but theatre hasn’t always been a full spectrum of shades and hues. Long before the likes of Hamilton, earlier works utilized far fewer people of color on stage. Vincent has seen the dynamics of the industry, having worked with the likes of Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and Eddie Murphy.
“I can remember when there used to be one Black person or one ethnic person in the show, and that’s the way is was most of my career,” he recalled. “And now, being in the change of that, with Aida and Rent and shows like that in the past 20 years have completely changed the landscape of what musical theatre can be. I think people really enjoy that, especially audiences seeing the mosaic of what the world really looks like. You have these roles that traditionally haven’t been open, now becoming accessible because of talent.”
Now, Vincent is optimistic about the state of the industry and the opportunities that are becoming available for up and coming actors.
“For me, being a more mature actor at this time in the business that’s lived my life in the theatre and in entertainment, it is so fantastic to be a part of the changing landscape of multicultural shows,” he added. “Seeing all the different colors, nationalities, and body types getting to be on stage giving 100 percent, doing what they love to do — theatre has really transformed over the last 20 years in terms of opportunities for African Americans and other nationalities. It’s been a pleasure to see the transformation happen; to be around long enough to see it.”
When asked if the cast felt any sort of pressure to compete with Disney’s original animated feature or the recently released live-action remake, Vincent didn’t seem phased, having confidence in the efforts of the cast and crew, and the appreciation audiences will have for their hard work.
“Not at all,” he boasted. “We have our creative team on this show; Casey Nicholaw , our director who’s won Tony Awards, his directing and choreography is absolute magic. The composer Alan Menken; — between the two of them, I think there’s [multiple] Academy Awards and Tony Awards, so no, we are pretty equipped for the theatre as opposed to motion picture or animation. Remember, our show starts with a script — words on a piece of paper. Then all these amazing craftsmen come together, from lighting, sound, costumes, sets, to put together this experience, and when that magic carpet takes off in front of your eyes, it’s completely pure magic. And it’s an interaction in real-time. We feel exactly what the audience is feeling and they feel what we’re feeling; it’s an exchange of energy that can only be experienced in live theatre.”
Aladdin opened on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre to critical acclaim on March 20, 2014 and quickly established itself as one of the biggest new blockbusters in recent years, breaking 13 New Amsterdam Theatre house records and welcoming nearly 10 million people worldwide. Its global footprint has expanded to include productions in Tokyo, Hamburg, London and Australia, in addition to the two U.S. productions.
“This is a perfect night of entertainment for families and date night.” Vincent exclaimed. “You can’t not have a great time. What better way to perform than to bring people into a theatre for two and a half hours and just make all their troubles disappear as they transform and we take them into our world in Agrabah.”
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.