As the National Tour of Aladdin prepares to open at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, one of its cast members is sharing a very special story about his career with Disney and how it has come full-circle. Reggie De Leon, who plays Jafar’s comedic sidekick, Iago, in the tour, has had a relationship with Disney that eventually brought him to Broadway, proving that Disney can truly make dreams come true. Broadway Direct spent some time talking to Reggie and hearing his magical story.
“I was born in Hollywood and grew up in Santa Fe Springs, about 15 minutes from Disneyland,” he began. “We went to the park a lot. As a kid, I had a dream of being in the shows at Disneyland. In fact, these shows really ignited my love for musicals. My first Broadway-caliber show [as an audience member] was the tour of The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre [which is where Aladdin will play], and that led to me to wanting to work in musical theater. Being so close to Disneyland, I eventually auditioned for them, and ended being cast in Snow White: An Enchanting Musical [playing the dwarf Sleepy] in 2004. In May of 2016, I was cast in Disney’s California Adventure’s Frozen: Live at the Hyperion.”
Appearing in live shows at Disneyland, Reggie learned how a performer gets fantastic preparation for a career in professional musical theater. “We did five shows a day, outdoors. There were multiple casts and you could perform with different actors each time you did the show. It really taught you about flexibility and adaptability,” he said. These skills would serve Reggie well as his career progressed into theater and television.
When Aladdin opened on Broadway, many of Reggie’s friends suggested that he audition for the role of Iago, pointing out his similarities to Don Darryl Rivera, who originated the character in New York. When Disney started casting Broadway replacements, Reggie went for it. At first it didn’t pan out because Rivera stayed with the Broadway show, but eventually Reggie was flown to New York, where he auditioned, then had a callback on a Monday and was cast as Iago in the National Tour on Wednesday. He started Aladdin in February 2017.
While on tour, Reggie found himself with an opportunity to make his Broadway debut. “When the tour went to Don Darryl Rivera’s hometown of Seattle, Disney allowed him to play the performances, and I took over for him on Broadway. Suddenly, I was on Broadway playing Iago opposite the Jafar of Jonathan Freeman [the original voice of Jafar in the animated film]. I was so in awe of him that I almost forgot to speak.”
Of course, Reggie’s fascination with Aladdin didn’t start with the stage show. “I watched the movie growing up. My favorite part of the film was the ‘A Whole New World’ sequence, the magic carpet ride where Aladdin and Jasmine see the man chiseling the Sphinx and the nose cracks off. I love that scene! I had a VHS copy of the film that I wore out.” So how did that favorite moment transfer to the stage adaptation for Reggie? “In the stage production, that carpet ride is truly breathtaking. They actually fly on a magic carpet. To this day, I don’t know how it works, but it’s gorgeous.”
Speaking of that magic carpet ride, Reggie is excited to be working with Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed (the original Aladdin and Jasmine on Broadway) for the first five weeks of the Los Angeles engagement. “I’ve worked with them both separately, Courtney on Broadway and of course Adam on the National Tour. This will be the first time, however, that I have worked with them both on the same stage. Knowing and working with them separately, I am super-excited to see their chemistry together.”
The character of Iago was given an unforgettable interpretation in the animated film by comedian Gilbert Gottfried. “I loved the Iago character in the film. I’m a big fan of Gilbert Gottfried and what he does. Of course, I can’t mimic him. I did the best to make it my own. I incorporate the best of Gottfried, Rivera, and myself.” And he particularly enjoys a moment between Iago and Jafar: “In Act I, we share a great moment. It’s joyous. Jonathan Weir [who plays Jafar on the tour] and I volley evil laughs back and forth. Weir is an incredible actor and we have a lot of fun creating these laughs together.”
Disney appears to be both an inspiration and an ongoing teacher for Reggie. “I’ve always known the importance of collaboration in the art of theater. Working on the tour of Aladdin, I am collaborating with people at the top of their game. It is both humbling and educational. Every rehearsal and every performance is a master class in acting, singing, and dancing. That connection with such enormous talent is the greatest reward of my Aladdin experience.”
Reggie does remind us that, even though it seems like his Disney dream happened overnight, it didn’t. “It takes time, but if you have the passion and it is what makes you happy, you keep working at a career in the theater, and the doors will eventually open. If you don’t try, it will never happen.” For Reggie, Aladdin holds a special place in his career progression and in his heart. “It provides two and a half hours of joy in a world that really needs it. I hope my performance will help people remember the humor in life. If they can walk away laughing and forgetting their troubles, that is what makes my job worthwhile. I am excited to bring Aladdin to the Pantages, where I saw my first Broadway tour, and share it with everyone, including all my work friends who were with me at Disneyland. It really is like coming full-circle. Disney does make dreams come true.”
To purchase tickets to Aladdin at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, click HERE.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals and maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.