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INTERVIEW: Adam Jacobs on Playing Aladdin and Touring with Family

A scene from the national tour of Aladdin, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The stage version of Disney’s beloved musical Aladdin has come to roost in Minneapolis for the next 3.5 weeks. The national tour of Aladdin plays at the Orpheum Theatre through October 8; the Arts Reader‘s Basil Considine spoke with actor Adam Jacobs about playing the titular street rat-turned-prince Aladdin.

Adam Jacobs as, well, Aladdin in Aladdin. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Where is home base for you when you’re not on tour?

My home is in New York. I’m from San Francisco, moved to New York, and went to NYU[‘s Tisch School of Drama] – but we’re planning on coming to Chicago when the tour is done. We just closed on a home! My wife’s family is from the Milwaukee area and we figured this was a good fit for us. A good fit for the family to raise our twin boys, who are 3 years’ old.

We’re official Chicago-ans now – Midwesterners!

You met your wife Kelly on stage, correct?

Yes, we met doing a Christmas show in Hershey, Pennsylvania, many moons ago. She performed on Broadway in Mary Poppins and I performed in a few different shows there, so it’s all in the family. My boys…we already put them in a theatre class. We’re just going to throw everything at them and see what sticks.

You certainly seem to have found an elegant solution to the high price of housing and childcare in New York City by opting out. 

Yeah, you could say that. It’s a little more conducive to raise a family out here, and I just like the Midwest vibe. It’s the perfect combination of grit and hospitality here in Chicago.

Often, when I speak with theatre couples who are doing the touring thing, it turns out that they have to do a lot of hijinks to stay in touch – intermission phone calls, jetting in for a morning, that sort of thing if they’re not on the same tour.

Adam Jacobs in The Lion King. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Oh, yes, we’ve done that. For a while, I was on the Lion King tour and she was on the Mary Poppins tour; we had a rule where we would try to meet up every 3 weeks to a month, even if it was just for 24 hours.

Before I even took that tour, we had our atlas out and our schedules and our itineraries. I said, “Okay, I’m going to be 500 miles from you here. You’re going to drive here, we’ll meet in the middle.” We did stuff like that to make it work.

We’re no stranger to the touring lifestyle. It’s nice having a partner who understands that, obviously. This is also the first tour where I’ve taken my wife and kids out on the road with me. This is my fifth national tour, so it’s a huge plus – a huge bonus to have them along. (They’re not in school yet – this is the only time we’d be able to do something like it.)

Unless the theatre part really takes off.

[Laughs] Yeah, we’ll find a part in the show for them and it’ll all work out.

So you were able to have your family out with you for some or all of the Chicago run?

That’s correct. They’ve been here the whole time and enjoying the city.

Will they be continuing with you from stop to stop?

Yup! Even though we’ve closed on the home, they’ll be coming with me to Minneapolis and all the subsequent cities – Seattle, San Francisco, LA…

Reading through your bio, you’ve had a number of very interesting experiences. Looking back, what are some things that set you off on the path to be the actor that you are today?

I had a mentor in high school – his name was Peter Devine. He was my English teacher/drama teacher, and he cast me in all the musicals and plays there. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it would be my career path, but there was one day where he said, “You could do this for a living if you wanted to.” A light bulb went off, and I said, “Oh!” The realization hit me, and ever since then I decided, “I’m going to do this!”

Sometimes, it only takes one person to help you come to that realization and give that encouragement to pursue a certain path in your life. I feel indebted to him, and I’m excited because I’m going to see him – he’s still teaching – in San Francisco when I return there [for the tour].

Are you giving him a comp ticket?

Oh, yeah – he gets a comp ticket!

Since you’ve been around the country five times over with tours, do you have friends in every city that you’re looking to meet up with and catch up with during your scarce days off?

Not every city, but I’m happy to say that I’ve made some friends along the way. Especially when I return home [to San Francisco], my high school buddies come out of the woodwork to see the show. People I haven’t seen since graduation day come out, so it’s going to be cool to catch up with them.

It’ll also be cool to do the sightseeing thing with my family this time around.

Tell me about your training – you’re a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of Drama…

It’s a conservatory-style program: music, theatre, dancing all in one place. It was a very good program for what I wanted to do. All the teachers there were also moonlighting in shows, so you could go see them practice what they were preaching, which was really cool.

After you graduated from Tisch, did you go right into a show, or was there an interval before you went on tour?

Adam Jacobs (left) in Les Miserables.

I wasn’t the one who graduated and went straight to Broadway – I wasn’t that lucky. I definitely worked my way up with cruise ship shows, theme parks, and small regional gigs. I built up my experience before finally getting my big break with the Les Miserables national tour as Marius. I played that for about a year and a half, and then I was lucky to be cast in the 2006 revival of the show [on Broadway], reprising the role. That was my Broadway debut.

One of the wonderful things about these long-running shows is that you can play a role for a long time after aging out of the original age slot. At the same time, as you go from your mid-20s to mid-30s, there are often major changes in the male voice. Have the types of role that you go after changed significantly in the last decade?

They haven’t changed significantly, but there are new roles cropping up. You see this especially in TV/film: I can now start playing the young dad, the doctor in his 30s, etc. I can start going out for for those roles [on camera]; in theatre, I can still go after the younger roles.

I might go shirtless again in another show – I know that’s not going to last forever, but that’s okay.

Inevitably, I will have to start playing the older roles. I’m fighting against it, but that’s how it is. In the meantime, I’m taking advantage of my looking young for my age. It works for our production of Aladdin because our characters are aged-up – I’m not playing the 16-year-old version of Aladdin, I’m playing a 22-year-old/younger adult age with my costar, and there’s a little bit more flirtiness. It’s a different sense of relationship in this production, which we’ve done deliberately to create that specific feel.

A bit too often, actors get known for playing a particular type of character. This can be welcome when people seek you out for those roles, and frustrating when you get shut out from others. You have a very elaborate professional website that shows many sides of your work. How do you manage and update that?

I have a good friend in New York, Mark Ledbetter, and he helped me design that website. I try to keep it up to date as much as possible…it’s not always easy, what with the twins, but I like to show how I’m a versatile actor.

As an actor of indiscriminate origin – I like to say ethnically ambiguous – that’s helped me in the theatre to play a wide variety of roles. That’s something that’s set me apart as an actor, a [demonstrated] versatility that I try to highlight.

Whether it’s a website or social media, actors nowadays have to put themselves out there in every way that you can. Youtube videos are what a lot of people do [to promote themselves] now – it’s part of the business side of show business: marketing yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be cast, necessarily, if you have 30,000 followers – it’s not an advantage [there], but it’s a way for people to reach you. It’s a smart thing to do if you can do it and have the time to do it.

I imagine time is a little more scarce as the show hits the road.

It can be grueling – there’s a lot of packing and unpacking, and traveling. It’s definitely a privilege to be paid to travel around the country, but there are days when you feel homesick. I’m lucky to have my family with me this time, but if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend back home…

I’ve given a lot of advice to younger actors with boyfriends and girlfriends back home and how to deal with that, and the facts of long-distance relationships. I’ve been a pro at it for a long time, and we’ve been able to make it work – so I see myself as one of the [touring] veterans, now. It makes me feel a little older, but that’s okay…I know it’s a natural thing and I like helping out my fellow castmates.

Speaking of castmates, this is a large tour with elaborate costuming, to name just one aspect. You’re one of the big stars, obviously – how many dressers, makeup artists, etc. do you work with directly as you get ready for a show?

I have my personal dresser – although she does dress other people during the show – and a hair/makeup person come and do my fez.

We have the whole crew that travels with us, but we also pick up local people at different stops who work with our supervisors.

It is a very large, full-scale production – what audiences around the country are seeing is the same size as the show is on Broadway. Same flying magic carpet that they have on Broadway. They’ve even made some improvements on the sets and effects, I think. It’s everything you’d expect to see and a bit more.

The cast of the North American tour of Aladdin in “Prince Ali”. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Your kids are a bit younger than a normal Broadway audience – have they been able to see the show?

They did! They saw it on Broadway from the box seats.

We did decide to separate them [during the show], which turned out to be a good thing – one of my guys, Jack, was talking almost through the whole thing: “Where’s Daddy?” “Where did he go?” “What’s happening?” It was good, though – they sat through the whole thing and watched it.

When I was able to glance up, I just saw a couple of eyes looking down at me, enraptured. I’m not sure that they get it [entirely] – they’ll see the cartoon and say, “That’s Daddy!” – but maybe in Minneapolis we’ll take them to see it again and see how it goes [now that they’re older].

Twins are normally two handfuls and a half – is your wife currently active in her acting career?

Not at the moment – she’s very happy being a stay-at-home mom for the time being. It’s a whole job unto itself. Raising twin boys is no joke! I give her a lot of credit for holding down the fort while I’m at work. I help out when I can, but she’s doing most of it.

I know that eventually she’ll get back on stage when the boys are in school and everything, but she’s told me that she wants to be there now in their development, to be there for those magical moments (which come few and between the kicking and screaming and biting, sometimes) that make up for the other parts.

It sounds like she’s getting a lot of exercise running around. Many of the touring actors that I’ve spoken with talk of seeking out some release after a show is loaded in and they’ve unpacked – often a 6 AM yoga class. What’s your “I’m taking care of myself” go-to on tour?

Yoga’s a good one. I also like to go to the gym and hit the treadmill to center myself.

At the theatre, I like to get there early, so I have some time for myself and sort of get into the right headspace, stretch, do my routine, etc. I also have a mini-gym setup in my dressing room that I tour with. (Nothing elaborate, just a few Therabands, cords, and weights. I’ll set them up over the door, do some calisthenics, pushups, stretches, and weights.)

Luckily, I don’t need to hit the gym too hard because the show is so demanding. My cardio workout happens during the show, and so I just have to tone [offstage] and maintain my core strength. It’s what a person needs to do – what any actor needs to do.

This show has far more singing than in the animated film – how do you prepare for it vocally?

I have my vocal warmups that I’ve worked on with my teachers – scales, sirens, and working with straws…things that if you were doing them on the subway, people would look at you oddly.

Everyone has their own personal vocal warmup; I like to also stretch my voice in terms of styles of music. The Disney sound is a very specific sound, so I like to sing things like opera and pop to maintain versatility and pliability. It keeps my voice working for me with the correct placement – like crosstraining your voice. It helps keep me from getting in a rut, vocally speaking.

Basil Considine