The former Aladdin star brings his cabaret show to 54 Below on January 31
By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Talk about getting your big break! In a matter of months, Major Attaway went from being a local actor in his native Texas to starring as the Genie in the Broadway smash Aladdin, a role he inhabited for three and a half years.
Attaway, who now makes his living as a voiceover artist in the videogame industry, has crafted a cabaret show about his Broadway experience called “The Genie’s Jukebox,” which he will bring to Feinstein’s/54 Below on January 31.
He recently spoke to Theater Pizzazz about the cabaret show, how he got to Broadway, the important role that standbys play, and his new career.
TP: Tell me about “The Genie’s Jukebox” and why you want to venture into the cabaret world?
MA: It’s a celebration of nostalgia about the role and Disney and the part both have played in my life and my career. The Genie is the best role ever written for a large black man like myself. I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and I was the only person in my theatrical space who looked like me, and I always wanted to be part of a like-minded brotherhood. That finally happened when I joined Aladdin, which was my first show on Broadway.
TP: So how did Aladdin become your first Broadway show?
MA: I had been cast in a production of Hands on a Hardbody in Texas, and its author Doug Wright, who is also from Texas, came down to see it. We talked after the show and he asked what I really wanted in the future, and I told him this part. About a month later, Doug sends me an email and says he had lunch with Thomas Schumacher (the president of Disney Theatricals) and that he mentioned me, and then two months later I get an audition package from Disney. At first, I had to audition via tape, but eventually, they flew me up to New York to see the show — with five other men who were there for the same reason — and then we all did a bunch of in-person auditions. They called me that night to offer me the job, but said they wanted me to get in better shape first. So they sent me to LA, and I lost 50 pounds in 10 weeks before they brought me to Broadway.
TP: You actually started as a standby for three roles in that show, including the Genie. With the Covid pandemic, we’re beginning to really understand the importance of being a standby on Broadway. Are you happy that role is being recognized?
MA: I am very passionate about this. When the curtain would open when I was a standby, I felt a huge responsibility, not only to the show, but I also knew I may be someone’s first theatrical memory. On the other hand, knowing people were there to see James Monroe Iglehart, I could often hear audible sighs of disappointment. I get that, but audiences have to realize that anyone who is hired for Broadway is capable of doing that part. Honestly, I didn’t even realize this since I came from the world of community theater. What I like to say now is that standbys are not necessarily the savers of the show; the show is just using different people to tell the same story.
TP: When you finally took over the role of Genie, what were the biggest challenges? And what was the biggest reward?
MA: The biggest challenge was keeping it fresh over such a long run. I had to work hard to do the same show I first did in 2016 in 2019. The biggest reward was showing myself what I am capable of as an actor. Once I was in a Broadway show, I felt like I became a different type of artist. Plus, seeing your face on a bus really changes things.
TP: Your career took a bit of turn after Aladdin. How different is it being a voice artist for animated characters and video games than being onstage?
MA: On a basic level, it’s not that different. For me, telling the story feels the same wherever I am; my face and body always goes with me, even in a booth. But because voiceovers are now my full-time work; I am working hard learning about new sound systems and other technology. And that’s fine; I love feeling like a bit of a novice. Plus, I like playing video games anyway, so I get to combine my two passions.