Michael James Scott is Broadway’s man with three wishes.
As Broadway’s original Genie, he has spent the last five years of his career bringing to life the magic of Disney’s "Aladdin," on New York City stages and beyond. After taking a brief hiatus from the New Amsterdam Theatre to lead the musical’s touring production internationally, he’s back on The Great White Way in the role that suits him.
"My favorite part about playing Genie is that everyone wants to love you," says Scott, 38, who’s lived in Manhattan for 15 years. "When you play a role where the anticipation even before you come out onstage is so exciting and positive, that’s a very fun thing. I love looking in the audience and seeing them smile. That is such a gift I don’t take lightly in this sort of crazy world we’re in today."
We spoke with Scott about spreading his magic on the Tony-winning musical, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.
You’ve devoted half a decade to portraying the Genie, and have spent three years straight in the stage role. So, has this larger-than-life personality become second nature to you at this point?
I mean, yes. I don’t have to think about the technical elements of the role anymore. It’s never a role you can sort of slide by. It’s such a challenging, constant role. You’re driving this crazy "Aladdin" ship so, it’s definitely not a role where I can sit back and depend on it being in my body. It’s in my body, but I’m still always learning something new about the role. I’m constantly surprised by the audience, because I get to break the fourth wall. That kind of thing is really cool and constantly changes your performance right away. I think that has made the role stay fresh to me because it truly is one of those things where it’s so different every night, depending on the audience. And, depending on my "Aladdin" as well.
How much freedom do you have to interact with the audience?
I get a sort of laid down foundation and I can play with certain things. It’s pretty set. So, the job is really making it feel like much more improv than it actually is. It is a challenging task because you do want the role to feel fresh and off the cuff. That’s what the Genie is. You never know where he’s going to go or what he’ll say. You have to figure out how to make that seem as if it is all off-the-cuff, though a lot of it is set.
Is there an audience you still remember that made you want to break the fourth wall?
Yes. Definitely. There have been times where current affairs are going on or people start taking photos. A part of me sometimes wants to say, "Do I look good in that photo?" I do play with them and there have been times where I’ll see a video or a photo being taken and I’m like literally smiling at them and the audience around them knows what’s going on. That kind of thing is really fun for me to do. But there are so many more times I want to add more things than I really can.
How did it feel to return to Broadway after being a part of the international touring production?
Oh my gosh. It’s been incredible. It’s been a learning experience that’s come full circle to return to a small, subtle role of the Genie. [laughs] It’s a dream to do this kind of a role in such a great arena. I got to do the role around the world, so what I tried to do was really grow in it and channel my authentic self and not judge it. I try to just go for it and not apologize for the craziness of it all. I try to come at it from the sense that it’s all about life and love, for me.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming "Aladdin" movie with Will Smith playing the Genie? Have you seen it spark renewed interest in the production?
I don’t know much about the film. I’m excited about it like everyone else and we can’t wait to welcome [the cast] into the "Aladdin" family, obviously. It’s great for the brand as a whole. This show has been such a success around the world that now people are excited to see the film as well. It’s been cool to be a part of that. I think it’s only going to help. It’ll only be a win-win situation for the film and the stage production. I think it’ll be one of those things that’ll do well for both departments. People will see the film and come to New York and have to see the Broadway show, or vice versa.
Hopefully, the cast will come see you guys on Broadway.
Yeah! We’re hoping for something. It would be fun to get to meet them.