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How a Black Gay Actor Became Aladdin's Longest-Running Genie

How a Black Gay Actor Became Aladdin's Longest-Running Genie

 


Michael James Scott was 13 years old, in the ninth grade, when he first went to New York and saw a Broadway show. Little does he know the transformative experience he is about to live.

Our first show happens to be The beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre, recalls Scott, a black gay actor who now plays the breathtaking role of the Genie in Aladdin during the 10th anniversary celebration of Disney musicals. The Be Our Guest number has all these dancing utensils, and I see this little dot of dark chocolate: a spoon. It's a dancing spoon. When I tell you that he lived, he was life, ALL RIGHT? I'm like, “Oh, my God, I could be that spoon.” At that moment, I saw someone on stage who looked like me. This dancing spoon changed my view of what was possible. Physically, seeing your dream right in front of you is just beyond.

Born in Baltimore, Scott left his hometown at the age of 6. We lived in downtown Baltimore, but [my parents] I didn't want their black sons to be another black male statistic. There are so many wonderful things about Baltimore's history, but my parents didn't really know it. They knew their environment, which was not the best at that time.

Scott's aunt, who was in the military, then became stationed in Florida and settled in Orlando. She tells her parents to move there and they accept this invitation to a whole new world. They hoped we would have opportunities that they didn't have, he explains. They made the sacrifice to move and try something different, and it literally changed the lives of my brother and me. We moved to the suburbs of Orlando, if you will, which was a very different environment than what they knew.

In Orlando, Scott suddenly finds himself right next to the Walt Disney World Resort. However, growing up, we couldn't really afford to go to Disney, Scott says. He only visits the parks when, as a child actor, he receives Disney tickets as payment. But in high school, he began working in the parade department at Disney World. Cut to February 2024, when Scott is invited to parade as grand marshal at the Magic Kingdom, kicking off the resort's Black History Month celebrations. Such an insane moment to come full circle, he recalls.

As Scott finds a safer home in Orlando and puts down deeper roots with Disney, one topic floats through the air like a magic carpet inviting a ride: When does being gay happen to his family? I mean, well, first of all, it's so funny, he said, laughing. I just don't understand how they didn't know.

I told my dad, I want you to meet my boyfriend. He asked: Does he make you happy? I was like, yeah. He said, “Well, that's all I care about.” It's so crazy that this was his reaction. I think of the idea of ​​this black man from a difficult background having a queer little boy who loved to sing, dance and live his life with Victorias Secret lotion.

I was very fortunate and lucky to be surrounded by people who didn't care if I looked different or sounded different, he adds. We are others in the LGBTQ+ community. We are the others. When I think of LGBTQ+ youth and their coming out horror stories, my heart bleeds for them.

Everything that's different about Scott sets him apart from the people who like his fantastical new point of view. He pursued a musical theater degree at Webster University in St. Louis and spent his summers at a theater camp in Tampa called the Broadway Theater Project. This camp was started by the legendary Ann Reinking, he said. I was trained by people like Ben Vereen, Gregory Hines, Roy Scheider. Julie Andrews taught me to sing. Gwen Verdon taught me Fosse. It's crazy when I think about it. Scott also meets her eventual husband, writer-director Jeremy Merrifield, at camp. They say we met in the gayest way possible: at theater camp!

Over the years, Scott became a musical theater veteran performing in shows like The Book of Mormon,Oh mom!, And Hair. When Disney Aladdin opens on Broadway, Scott is in that original company as a replacement for the Genie. I wasn't on standby at that point in my career, he said. But I knew the potential, so it was a lesson in putting ego aside. James Monroe Iglehart, creator of The Genius and Tony winner [Award] for that, he is like my brother. We had known each other for many years and that was one of the reasons I was able to do this. It made sense for me to take on this unique role.

Along the way, Scott briefly leaves Aladdin originator of the role of Minstrel in Something rotten! But he eventually received a call from Tom Schumacher, president of the Disney Theatrical Group. He asked: Are you ready to change your life? Are you seated? He said to me: We want you to be the originator of the Genie in the Australian production of Aladdin In Sydney. And that’s how my Genie journey, as I call it, truly began.

Matthew Murphy

No kidding. After originating the role in Australia, Scott played the Genie on the North American tour of Aladdin as well as in the West End. In 2019, Scott returned to New York to play the Genie on Broadway, this time in the main cast. Unfortunately, in 2020, Broadway and the world around it were shut down due to lockdown. This period also marks the George Floyd protests against police brutality and the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It was a crazy time to sit with our thoughts. We have experienced a racial uprising in our country. We also had a racial uprising on Broadway. It's so funny talking to you, with Out. Being a colored man, at that time I was very popular. Everyone said: We want to hear from you. They were wondering: Where are these colored men? And I was like, I've always been here, boo.

Abracadabra! This became one of the busiest periods of Scott's career. However, this brings mixed feelings. I was on all types of panels. People wanted to hear from me. My thoughts now counted, which was very interesting. Although I was grateful for that, I also thought, “Oh, now I have permission to speak.” Something changed in me, personally. I will never be silent again. I will never apologize for taking up space.

I was a different man coming back to Broadway,” Scott recalls. As a black man backed by one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, I knew what it was really like. To lead our [theater] company during the historic reopening of Broadway, it was monumental. It was a gift. Of course, I walked and did everything during this racial uprooting. But I decided my protest would be joy. A happy black man: that was my protest, and that’s what I live by.

I wanted people to see the face of a black man smiling and living in joy. A man who speaks loudly, supported by the people at Disney Theatricals who believe in my authenticity. When you are in your light, no one can dim it. Historically, people have died because they stood in their light, but they stood in their light. They are remembered and I stand on their shoulders.

I suggest that his approach sounds like a kind of gleeful revenge, and he smiles. I love it, Scott said. That was absolutely it, joyous revenge. We know we're fierce and we look good. We know we are the culture. But we also have real depth, and it's amazing to see people listening to our experiences. We've been having this conversation for a long time and now we're having it on a global platform.

To achieve his ultimate career dream, Scott envisions a role he can help create. Why can't we have a romantic comedy that's also a musical, and who's the star? Me! Why couldn't this be the case? I want to create this, not only for myself, but for those who look like me. I have had so many angels in my life. It’s important that I give back and create material that speaks to us. This is the dream. This is what I want to do. And then, well, let's do another interview to talk about even more dreams.

Aladdinwhich is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Broadway, plays at the New Amsterdam Theater.

This article is part of the Out May/June issue, on newsstands May 28. Support queer media and subscribe or download the issue via Apple News, Zinio, Nook or PressReader starting May 14.

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