BWW Interview: Jay Paranada is Evil Sidekick Iago in Disney's ALADDIN

BWW Interview: Jay Paranada is Evil Sidekick Iago in Disney's ALADDIN
Jonathan Weir (Jafar) & Jay Paranada (Iago).
Aladdin North American Tour.
Photo by Deen Van Meer.

I remember the first time I saw Disney's Aladdin in the movie theatre as a kid. I was only 4 years old, and I was both mystified, entertained, in love with the music, and terrified. So much wrapped up into one movie! A street rat who at heart is a really good guy, but just a little lost and trying to find his place in the world. A princess who teaches us that all the money and comforts in the world don't necessarily bring you joy and that we should always stand up for ourselves. A Genie who grants wishes and ultimately earns his freedom. An evil sorcerer and his trusted sidekick who want nothing more than to rule the world and destroy anyone in their path. But also, there's amazing music and lots of dancing. How could you NOT love this story?!

New Orleans is in luck! Disney's ALADDIN is on tour and flew in to our city last week. With 6 more opportunities to see the show live in action, I would run, not walk, to the box office! I have heard nothing but incredible things about this production, and chatting with cast member Jay Paranada made me even more eager to go experience the magic.

Jay plays Iago in the touring production of Disney's ALADDIN, and has the privilege of bringing his family on the road with him. He's a seasoned actor who got a late start in the biz, but who cannot see himself doing anything else. Keep on reading to learn more about Jay and this amazing show.

I read your bio on your website and I thought it was really, really funny! I love that you called yourself a distinguished Tony Awards watcher!
Thanks! I'm a goofy dude, I figured I might as well infuse as much of my personality as possible.

The Tony's are like a national holiday in my household. Is it something you grew up watching?
Oh 100%.

Were there any that were particularly memorable?
Oh geez! That's such an interesting question. The thing that I love the most about the Tony's and living in New York City... I've lived there for a little over a decade now... is being able to see and support my fellow colleagues who are on the show, which I think is kind of remarkable. I think that whenever my best friends and I always watch it, it's just so emotional being able to see someone at the top of their game. You know what I mean? And being able to support them and watch them do their thing... I don't really know how to describe it other than it's just pure magic seeing your colleagues shine. I honestly can't pinpoint a particular moment in the Tony's especially since I've never been there myself. Maybe someday!

We'll cross fingers!
We'll cross fingers, yes, that's exactly right.

Something else I noticed on your resume is that you went from having a Sociology degree to then moving into the Performing Arts, which I thought was kind of cool because you went from studying human interaction to playing it out for people.
100%. You kind of hit the nail on the head with that. For sure. I remember I was going to school originally in the state of Washington, I went to Pacific Lutheran University, with that in mind. I was actually trying to go into teaching and I did the study abroad program in England, and I was studying gender and sexuality, and sociology, and psychology, which is kind of understanding more of how the world works. And then, some of my flat mates that were in my dormitory were like, "Well we're all doing a Gilbert and Sullivan concert here on the main stage. Would you be interested in singing for it?" I was like, "Well, I've been singing for all my life, but never really thought about being on the stage." Doing that, I caught the theatre bug. I caught it later than most people who would be like, "Well, I was three years old or four years old and singing or dancing in a studio, and I knew I wanted to be an actor." I think I didn't hit it until I was almost 22 years old. I think that's kind of unusual, but it's been an interesting path because everything kind of worked serendipitously. I remember coming home from the study abroad program saying, "I don't know what to do with this one wild life of mine, so what should I do?" I saw a flier for an acting conservatory that I ultimately wound up doing to... The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. I was like, "Well, this might be a sign." And it literally was a sign, and I attended there, and then it's been this life ever since.

That's really cool to hear because a lot of people I talk to know this is something they've wanted since they were in the womb, and I don't think I figured out what I wanted to do until maybe last year.
Oh sure, of course! That's definitely how I feel, too. It's one of those interesting cycles. I don't think that there's a direct trajectory for most people in the arts. You could go from a really phenomenal show like Disney's ALADDIN, and then to something else. It's a very interesting and strange and nothing makes sense kind of world.

Is this the first time you've been in a Disney production?
It is! So, this is my Disney debut. Funny enough as it is, I've actually... it's kind of been a part of my world so to speak for a really long time. I heard about it when they were doing a pre-Broadway production in Seattle, and I'm from the state of Washington. I remember going in [to audition] for their very first production, and I actually went in 11 different times before actually booking it. And that's the craziness of our career. You could literally go in 11-12 different times... there's a gal, there's another Filipino gal on Broadway right now, she's playing Christine in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Ali Ewoldt, and I think she went in probably 11 or 12 times for that, too. I almost kind of feel like that's sort of our world sometimes where they keep you "in the pile" so to speak, and then eventually it just could be the right match, and you never really know when the right match is. I actually don't know when in those 11 times the casting director or the creative team were like, "He is the guy, let's just figure out when he is the guy." If that makes sense.

Yes! It's such a testament to not get down on yourself when you don't get a role right away because it's not always anything you did.
Oh, 100%. And the thing is, I always keep telling... whenever I talk to my friends or even people who I might be mentoring... it's definitely a long game. At the end of the day, it's just being present, being in the moment, listening to your scene partner, and knowing that ultimately if this is the career you want, it is definitely possible, but perseverance is the biggest key to all of it. I kind of have the best testimony of it as it is just because like hello how many times have people gone in this many times. After the first four times they may have been, "Oh, they just don't like me." But, something in my heart knew that this particular role, playing Iago, playing one of the coolest Disney villains that are out there in the cannon... like... being able to perform him... I just kind of knew. It feels like it was written specifically for my voice.

I remember going to see ALADDIN in the movie theatre when I was growing up as a kid, so this is a story that so many people know and have grown up with. Were you a big Disney fan growing up?
Yes, I absolutely was. I remember having a VHS, and basically playing this movie nonstop. I'm pretty sure that my parent ended up buying a whole new tape because I wore it out. It's so fantastic because this show, when they crafted it, they kind of had everyone in mind. To know that ok we're going to take this source material, this animated feature, and just make it available and present and relatable to literally everyone. It's an excellent date night movie. It's an excellent time to bring family. I sometimes even see single ladies or single men coming to the show and having just as much of a good time. The material is written so well that the jokes that the adults will get, because it is a little slapsticky, might fly over the kids' heads, but then the spectacle of it all! I think we have, I mean geez, like 350 costumes in the entire show. There is a number at the start of the second act where I think there's 102 costume changes in 60 seconds. Something crazy like that. So like, being able to work for this company and seeing how they transform this incredible source material and then bringing it to real life... everything is so spectacular. I believe that we are probably one of the biggest road shows, if not the biggest road show, on tour right now. It takes us 27-28 semi trucks to move us from one city to another. That's remarkable in terms of knowing that the quality of the show and the six other productions around the world... I think we have a production in Germany, we have one in the UK, we have one in Australia, New York, Japan, and then us - the tour... but all of them, our director, Casey Nicholaw, did such a great job of finessing it that each production looks exactly the same, which is kind of amazing. People in Atlanta, people in New Orleans, they'll be able to see the exact same show.

Yes! Disney does a fantastic job of that, and I've noticed. We've had quite a few Disney shows come through New Orleans recently, and they're shows that some of them I've seen on Broadway and then again on tour and there is absolutely no difference in the quality.
Yeah, and it's two and a half hours of eye candy. This is incredible. I'm in a fortunate position of playing a role that is very... we're the character dudes... Jafar and Iago. We get to step out into the front of the proscenium and do their devious work so to speak, and we're kind of moving the story along. But, we get to be the funny ones. Everyone else around us is dancing and twirling and doing cartwheels and doing acrobatics, and I'm thinking to myself, "Wow! That's amazing!" I'm always a little blown away to be like wow, we are actually in a company of the most fantastic... probably some of the most fantastic performers out there.

So you mention that you play Iago, and I feel like this is a character that everyone loves to hate. He's a villain, but he's SO funny. What are some of the best parts about bringing him to life every night?
I think one of the coolest things about Iago... geez... that's such a loaded question because I think everything about playing an evil character because evil characters don't necessarily know they're evil. They just have a different perspective and different wants and different needs than the ingénue or the leading man or whatever. I think it's being able to honor what Gilbert Gottfried did in the animated feature and making it my own, and being able to transform it in a way that fits in this really fun character type. I'm having a hard time really describing what makes me most excited about it. I think it's also the fact that this particular role has been played... in New York City it was played by a Filipino actor by the name of Don Darryl Rivera, and on tour it was originally Reggie De Leon. So it's been three Filipino men who have played it now, which I think is actually kind of neat to be like well this is now another opportunity that shows that representation matters and that there's diversity on stage and diversity in entertainment in general. It's coming to a point where it's nice to see people that are of different walks of life, if that makes sense, and of different cultures being able to represent that. I hope that answered your question!

Yes, you did! I hear that this character is represented a bit differently than he is in the film. Can you tell me about that?
Of course. So, in the animated film, everybody knows that he is a parrot. And, I believe that Disney wanted to kind of move away from the animal archetype so I'm actually no longer a parrot in the show. Abu, the monkey, is actually now three brothers or three best friends of Aladdin... Omar, Babkak, and Kassim. And then Raja, the tiger in the film is now three attendants... they are now Jasmine's attendants. They did a really good job of being able to infuse little moments that kind of throw it back to the old characters. My costume itself looks like it has feathers on it. Gregg Barnes did an amazing job with the costume and making it look just... you would understand why they moved away from it because think about The Lion King with so many animals. You have the puppets and the huge elephants and I think they wanted to move away from that. Now, I'm humanized, but still able to feel just like Iago in the animated film.

I can't imagine that many folks out there haven't seen or heard of ALADDIN, and I know your character is represented differently. What are some of the other changes that we may notice production-wise?
Changes from the original feature you mean?

Yeah!
The thing is, I feel as if anytime I watch the animated film I always think that we did such a good job of reflecting it that you wouldn't even be able to tell because we even have a flying carpet in the show. That spectacle is still there. In "Friend Like Me," which, we all know Robin Williams did an incredible job with, you'll actually see Trevor Nicholas who is our Genie in New Orleans... we're doing a Genie swap right now. Our original Genie is actually in London right now, and Trevor is with the touring company right now so he can actually perform for his home state because he's from the Pittsburgh area and we were just recently there. They do a good job of honoring what Robin Williams did with "Friend Like Me," but then putting his own flare to it. It has so many throws to... something funny that I find is that the material throws it to other Disney material. You'll actually here little medleys within the song itself. You'll be like, "Oh my gosh, is that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? Oh my gosh, is that THE LITTLE MERMAID? Oh my gosh is that..." And, you think to yourself, "How could they have done that?" It's because Alan Menken, our composer, originally wrote that material as well. So they were like this is just the perfect opportunity to really hit the audience with as much stimulation as possible like, "You're at a Disney show! You're at a Disney show! Remember all these things?!" That's what's exciting about it.

That's cool that you mentioned that because Disney does that all the time in their movies. They have all of these easter eggs... you might see a character or some reference from one movie pop up in another one. I think it's neat that they took that to the stage!
Just because they know that they can! People appreciate it so much to know like, "Well how come we don't have a Pocahontas reference?" Just kidding! We DO have references to Pocahontas! Know what I mean? It's so interesting to hear the things that Disney did with this particular material.

Are there any new songs in the show?
There are. So, Jafar and Iago have their evil song "Diamond in the Rough" bit where it's kind of moving the clock forward of what we want Aladdin to do. We have this amazing fight combat sequence with the three sidekick boys. I believe it's called "High Adventure." That's something they can look forward to. We definitely still have the original, I think it's five or six original numbers from the movie.

It's good to hear that Iago gets his shining musical moment!
He does! He definitely does! He definitely has moments where it feels like ok they served him well. He has his moments to be like ok this is why Iago is here in the show in the first place.

I know he's a sidekick of sorts, but what do you think his goal is with partnering up with Jafar?
almost feel as if they live in a very symbiotic relationship. Jafar needs ago just as much as Iago needs Jafar. don't necessarily know if one works without the other to be perfectly honest, and we do such a good job of mastering the ability to communicate. One of the things that love the most is being able to have such giving scene partners, and knowing that we are moving the plot forward with our expository stuff, but we're also very crucial to being able to establish a conflict. feel as if my M.O. so to speak would be to honor Jafar because ultimately he wants to be the Sultan and ruler of the universe, and I kind of want to be right by his side. want to be his right hand man. There's also something that is really devious and evil about ago sometimes one-upping Jafar. There's a particular scene that actually love more than anything. We actually do a throw to an evil laugh, and it almost feels like a play within a play where we have an opportunity to be like, "Should we do an evil laugh? s it evil laugh time?" You'll actually see it. think it's one of the coolest things to be able to laugh like a maniac on stage and have the audience laugh alongside us as well. How many opportunities do you have to really laugh your face off, and then the audience joining in along, too? Not many. And it's so perfect for that because it changes every night. We know that we can one-up one another, and we know that we can psych each other out and be like, "This is what 'm gonna try to do." "This is what 'm gonna try to do." t just feels like it's being able to have freedom of play, but still within some structure.

That's part of the fun of creating live theatre is to ok here's the box you have to stay in, but feel free to play within the box.
Absolutely. And, we have this amazing opportunity where Disney actually brings the associate directors and then Casey [Nicholaw] to check in on the show. Disney does a good job of keeping the integrity up knowing that the show we gave our opening performance in Chicago back a year and a half ago is exactly the show that we are giving today. They're so good about coming in to check on people just to make sure that people are doing well and if they have any questions, or they sometimes want you to dig deeper into the character. Being able to get an opportunity to do more table work after a show is "frozen" (not to throw it to another Disney show or anything... definitely didn't mean to do that) I think is really cool. I've never been in an environment where they care so much about the material where they come in every so often, every couple of months, to be like ok let's play again. We get to discover new things again. It feel like any time I walk to work, I know that I'm going to be with family. I know more than anything that everyone is very genuinely happy being where they are because we know that we are giving people their weekend, we're giving people their days off, we're giving people their holidays. What better way to spend it than giving them a show where they can just ignore their problems for two and a half hours? I don't know if you read in my bio or not, but I'm actually traveling with my family.

Oh! That's so nice!
My husband is a full time teacher in New York City, but he's taking a little bit of a break and we're raising our daughter on the road. She is one and a half years old. We call her the Agra-baby. So that's miss Lily Bea. It's been great. Everybody's like... to have a kid on tour... the crazy thing is we have another kid on tour as well. Our Jafar standby, Adam [Stevenson], and his wife Kate actually brought a child into the world, too, so we have two babies on tour. Which is kind of cool. It's a testament to know that Disney cares about their employees and about their family to be like you know what let's make it happen and let's make it work.

That's so special, too, because not a lot of people get that opportunity. A lot of times people are away from their families and it's hard. But, I imagine that's really great.
I mean it's definitely remarkable for all intents and purposes to be able to have them on tour and then coming home to them. It's just such a nice feeling to be like, "Hey look, we're making our dreams come true with this show, and then you get to come along." I don't have to just do FaceTime all the time, which is what I've been used to in my career thus far.

That's got to be cool for your daughter, too, especially later on when she gets to look back at that and go, "Whoa, that was a really neat way to grow up."
And having pictures from this beautiful country of ours, being able to try cuisine and different cultures and tourist sites like, "Hey baby, here's two weeks, four weeks, six weeks of your life in New Orleans." How many people get a chance to do that? I actually don't know, but every time I wake up I feel so fortunate and I feel so lucky to be where I am working for this incredible company. I sound like a salesman, but it really is an incredible... like, I couldn't have asked for a better situation or life really.

That's so great to hear! I love when people are happy! Getting back to the show a little bit, I always like to hear... people play their own character over and over, but if there was another character you could play in this show, who would you want to take a crack at?
Jasmine. I think that would be so great! I mean there's just so many moments where I think that out of all the Disney princesses she has such a depth of character and belief system and believing in a particular dream and then following it is kind of noble and not taking it lightly. This is the life that I want and where I want to be, and this is point A to point B, and how do I get myself there. Now that I'm raising a daughter, I feel like she's such a great example of what possibilities are there for you as long as you put your heart and soul into it. And, I'm just really fortunate to have Lissa deGuzman as my Jasmine. Originally we had Isabelle McCalla. Just watching them do their thing I get kind of jealous because I'm like you have beautiful new songs that were written for you and then you get to fly on the magic carpet. That's pretty cool. And then to be able to show women empowerment is just really amazing. Not that that would ever happen. They would never throw a wig on me, I would never be Jasmine, but you did ask what my dream role would be! It would be quite strange, but maybe one day our hair supervisor will actually let me wear one of the wigs and I'll show you a picture.

Oh, please text that to me! I would love to see it!
I will!

To wrap us up, I'm sure this is a stereotypical question, but I'm going to ask it anyway... If you got the three wishes from Genie instead of Aladdin, what would you wish for?
Oh my gosh. Really?! It's not even a stereotypical question because I've never really thought about it! Geez. I'm literally pausing, though, because I'm thinking about it because I've never thought about it in my life.

First time for everything!
There is a first time for everything. Ok, so, dream number one would be... ahh... does it have to be specific? You know what... I know this sounds really crazy, but I really think what Aladdin's dreams are would be kind of the dreams that I would want. I think that it would be really amazing to not worry about what life has in store... to be a prince, so to speak, but that just means that there's comfort, there's safety, and knowing that there is longevity in my career. I think the second wish would be... geez... well without giving away plot... so whatever he [Aladdin] says on number two when you come and see the show that's also what it is. And number three, just like the animated feature, I think I would probably want to release Genie. I'm living in a world where I feel really fortunate and happy where I am, and why not be able to spread the joy of giving another being their freedom? Freedom is such an important thing. Is that giving away plot points? I hope not!

I mean if they're the same as they were in the movie it's not giving away anything because we know what those are.
Very true! That's very true. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but they are perfect wishes. What Aladdin wishes for is kind of everyone's... the more that I think about it, I know that I'm stalling, but the more that I think about it they are perfect wishes.

Come find out for yourself about what those wishes are and experience true Disney magic in ALADDIN, which has six more shows in New Orleans before they take a carpet ride to another city! It sounds like a fantastic show that's great to bring the whole family to, and I for one cannot wait to see what's in store. For tickets and more information visit www.saengernola.com, and follow Jay on his journey via his Instagram page @jayparanada

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From This Author Heidi Scheuermann

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