BWW Interview: Reggie DeLeon of ALADDIN Talks to Broadway World about Iago...Defeathered, Alpacas, Three Wishes, and More!
The anxiously-anticipated arrival of Aladdin is finally here! The national tour stops in Sacramento through June 2 and brings with it the songs that you know and love from the 1992 animated movie, along with new numbers written specifically for the stage musical. After its debut on Broadway in 2014, it was nominated for 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Broadway World Sacramento was able to speak with Reggie DeLeon, who originated the role of Iago on the national tour and has returned after a brief hiatus. Reggie is well-known for his recurring role as Shep in the Pup Star films. He can also be seen on "MOM" (Paul), "Superior Donuts" (Zale), and "Melissa & Joey" (Wyatt).
We are so excited to have you back in Sacramento! You were last here in 2014 for our Broadway at Music Circus production of La Cage Aux Folles. There is something magical for me about Music Circus in the summer. As a performer, is there something special to you about summer stock?
Yeah, I love the fast pace of it. It's really thrilling to be able to come into a rehearsal process that's a week long and the next week you're performing in front of 2000 people. There's something really exciting and thrilling about that. Music Circus has been around for decades and they're a well-oiled machine. I imagine they're the best of the best. I don't think anyone does it quite like them. It's always a big honor to be there. It feels very much like a family and despite the fact that it's such a short time, you grow very close. It's a very special, shared unique experience. I almost want to compare it to being like war buddies in the best way possible. It's always a place I love to be.
After reading your bio, I am intrigued by the title of one of your theatre credits. Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas! What is that about? Anything with Matthew Modine or alpacas in the title has my interest.
I think that's what Blair Singer, the playwright, was hoping to achieve. It was a play that I did at the Geffen in Westwood in 2009. I had just finished Thoroughly Modern Millie at Music Circus and was at the airport when I got the call that I had booked that play. It was exciting to come home and have that to look forward to. It was like my big break because I was the only person in that show who wasn't a celebrity. Matthew Modine played himself. French Stewart was in it. I played his sidekick in "MOM", a pure coincidence. Peri Gilpin from "Frasier" was also there. Lots of recognizable people and then there was me. It was such a cool experience. It was a farce and it was brilliant and well-written and we just had a ball. It was so much fun. The title kind of says it all. What you're thinking when you read it is what the play was. I had the time of my life. To this day it's one of my fondest memories ever.
You have a recurring role as Shep in the Pup Star movies, which my son loves. Are there any more sequels in the works?
At this time, not that I'm aware of. The last one we did was the Christmas movie. I don't know if there are any others planned. There's always talk and hope. I've done 3 movies now with the franchise and I love it so much. We've really become a family. We shoot it up in Victoria, Canada, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
In addition to Aladdin, I see you've been in Frozen at Disney's California Adventure. Have you always been a Disney fan? Has it had a part in shaping your career path?
Oh yes, very much so. Like most of the world, I grew up watching Disney films and I very luckily grew up 15 minutes away from Disneyland park and I still live here. I grew up going to the park. I first got hired in 2004 to do the Snow White musical and got to open that show and that was an exciting chapter in my life. I've worked there ever since. Disney and Disneyland have always been a huge part of my life and such a huge influence. There is nothing like the storytelling and the messages that they send of family and love and loyalty and triumph and good vs evil. All of those themes helped shape the person and performer I am today.
After a year on the national tour of Aladdin, you ended up taking a break. What made you decide to return to the tour?
The first year of the tour, all of my dreams came true. I performed on Broadway and at the Pantages. I was the guy at the end of every show who had to do a backstage tour. It became a joke. Everyone I knew came to the Pantages. I felt that the journey was over because I was home. I got to open the tour, perform the role on Broadway, which was a dream come true, and do the show for all of my friends and family. Check, check, check, it's time to come home. I don't regret that chance to have had the year here at home. I got to be with my family and reconnect with my friendships. When they called and asked if I would be interested in coming back for the 3rd year of the tour, it wasn't something I had thought about. The more the idea percolated in my head, the more excited I got about it. I felt like maybe my journey wasn't over and I was having major FOMO (fear of missing out) watching my friends on social media on the tour. I always feel that when an opportunity presents itself, you should grab it. I couldn't be more honored to do it. The company is wonderful. The new people that have come in are fantastic and so great in their individual roles. As a united company we're having a great time telling this wonderful story.
How is working on a Disney production different than working on other musicals? Is the Disney magic palpable?
Yes, very much so. I couldn't agree with that more. There's something very magical about it. There are a lot of magical elements to it. I hope you see it and see some of the cool effects that happen onstage. We have a magic carpet that actually flies! That's just one of them. There are so many cool little things that happen. Even beyond that, Disney represents family and from the get-go you can feel it. We're here, together through thick and thin, and we're going to tell the story. It's so great to be able to have your coworkers be your family. What a special gift that is. I think a big part of that is because it's Disney. I've had other jobs and it's great but there's something special about Disney and we all feel it.
People may be surprised to learn that Iago is not a bird in the stage musical! I'm not sure how I feel about this! Can you tell us about your character now and how it differs from the animated version?
You're not alone, for sure. People always say, "What do you mean, not a bird?" Before I started the show, my friends would say, "Oh, break a wing," and I would have to tell them, "I'm sorry, I'm not a bird," and they would say, "What???" It's a little different, but the Iago we all know and love is still basically at its core the same character. Still the sidekick with a lot of opinions and not afraid to express himself so it's a fun take on the character. I think with the success of Lion King and how they were able to magnificently portray the animals, they kind of maybe, I'm guessing, wanted to stray from that. They humanized Iago. They humanized Abu and created a trio of sidekicks. It's really fun. There's a little nod to Abu-you can't blink, but if you watch "A Friend Like Me" very carefully, you might catch a glimpse of Abu. From what I hear, people don't necessarily miss the animal characters. It is Aladdin, a story we all know and love, but it's been adapted to the stage in this really cool way. Similarly, the Genie has been adapted in a genius way.
My favorite Disney characters are the villains! Maleficent, the Queen in Snow White, Ursula, Jafar. Do you relate to the villains? Is there another character that you would choose to play if given the opportunity?
I love Iago and it gives me a chance to tap into a side I don't explore in my everyday life so it's super fun. I play the Duke in Frozen, who is a villain. It's hard to say. I love playing Iago. If I were to say, "This is a character that represents me," I don't know....I really love Stitch because he's so mischievous and has a good heart. I guess Iago does, too, but he doesn't show it very easily.
What is your favorite number from the show?
"A Friend Like Me" is incredible. It's an 11-minute show-stopper and we were just at the theatre in Salt Lake City and they had a monitor backstage, which is not a luxury often afforded to us, and every time the number came on I would watch it, mesmerized. Every time I would catch something I've never seen. It's one of those numbers that is just like, "What is happening onstage?"
You spent some time on Broadway as Iago-how was it working with Jonathan Freeman, who created the voice of Jafar in the 1992 movie and originated the role on Broadway?
Oh wow. I mean, I'm a fan of the film and literally wore out my VHS tape but, you know, we all know his voice. The second he spoke to me as Jafar, I was like, "Jafar is actually talking to me." It was a mind-blowing experience, very meta in a way. I can't even describe it. Kind of a weird, crazy, is this actually happening? It was just so cool and I've been so fortunate to have so many cool experiences like that in my life. That was definitely in my top. I almost forgot to speak on stage. I could have just stared at him dumbfounded. It felt like a long time but hopefully it wasn't.
That must be gratifying to have so many young fans look up to you as Iago and Shep. Do you enjoy all of the stage door attention and being a part of shaping young dreams?
That's very sweet of you to say. I don't know if young people look up to me but if they do that's really cool. What a gift and honor that is if that really is the case. When I come out, half the time they're looking for Aladdin and Genie. I say, "Well, you have a good day," and then I move on. If I had a chance to meet someone who was in some way affected it would be such an honor. I haven't had the good fortune of that happening yet.
After reading Aladdin, the folk tale, as a child, I dreamed of what wishes I would choose if I were granted three. What would you wish for?
That's such a good question, Courtney. Oh boy. Well, I know this is cheesy but this is true. I would wish for world peace because I feel like there is such turmoil in our world and to have everybody be able to experience peace would be amazing. Secondly, I would wish for good health and good fortune for all my friends and family. I just want them to be happy and healthy. Now I'm going to be selfish and wish for myself. I just want to keep being an actor. I love it so much and want to keep working. I've been so lucky to have so many of my dreams come true and I hope it keeps going.
Aladdin plays at the Sacramento Community Center Theater from May 15 through June 2. Tickets start at $40 and are available now at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; they are also available at the Community Center Theater Box Office, 1301 L Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181, or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.
Photo credit: Deen Van Meer