James Monroe Iglehart, the Tony Award winner who brought Genie to life in the new Broadway hit “Aladdin,” is working his magic offstage and helping to make children’s dreams of being in the theater come true.
It’s all part of a free program called Disney Musicals in Schools – Disney is behind “Aladdin” and the parent company of ABC News — with 6,000 children involved across the U.S. in just the last few years.
The students practice for weeks with Disney stars and then get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform on a real Broadway stage.
“What I love about this is, for so many of us who do the theater, we got to do shows in our schools,” said Tom Schumacher, president and producer of the Disney Theatrical Group. “But today, so many schools have lost their arts budget. … We either give [the school] a teaching artist to teach the kids and the teacher how to do it or we help teachers who are already doing it.”
Recently, in New York, Iglehart coached children who otherwise would not experience theater because their schools had to cut arts programs.
“What it does for them is give them all this self-esteem, while, at the same time, it helps them understand the world around them,” Iglehart said. “And if we can do that, if we can turn on that light. If we can inspire some of them, then we’ve done our job.”
Iglehart said that when he was growing up in a humble home, the stage was where he thrived.
“There were people who came to us when I was a kid and they were like, ‘Hey, look, you’re talented. Here’s where you should go.’ And I got advice along the way,” he said. “So when they asked me to do this … I immediately said, ‘Yes.’”
The role of Aladdin’s genie is one he wanted since he was 17, when he saw “Aladdin” performed for the first time.
“If these kids can look up to me and go, ‘Hey, the genie made it.’ Then I feel pretty good,” he told ABC News.
Schumacher said the musical program was about more than entertaining the children.
“The process of making theater — of collaborating, of sharing, of learning new material, literally walking the mile in someone else’s shoes – makes better citizens, makes better kids, makes better students,” he said.