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How a Black gay actor became Aladdin's longest-running Genie

How a Black gay actor became Aladdin's longest-running Genie


How a Black gay actor became Aladdin's longest-running Genie
Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Group

Michael James Scott, the longest-running Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, recounts his journey as a Black gay actor to mark the Broadway musical's 10-year anniversary.

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Michael James Scott is 13 years old, in ninth grade, when he goes to New York City for the first time and sees a Broadway show. Little does he know the transformative experience he’s about to have.

“Our first show happens to be Beauty and the Beast at the Palace Theatre,” recalls Scott, a Black gay actor who today plays the show-stopping role of the Genie in Aladdin during the Disney musical’s 10th-anniversary celebration. “The ‘Be Our Guest’ number has all these dancing utensils, and I see this one little Black chocolate spot: a spoon. It’s a dancing spoon. When I tell you he was living, he was living, OK? I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, I could be that spoon.’ In that moment, I saw someone who looked like me on the stage. That dancing spoon changed my outlook on what was possible. Physically seeing your dream right in front of you…it’s just beyond.”

Born in Baltimore, Scott moves out of his hometown at age 6. “We lived in inner-city Baltimore, but [my parents] didn’t want their Black sons to be another Black male statistic. There are so many wonderful things about the history of Baltimore, but my parents didn’t really know that. They knew their environment, which wasn’t the greatest at that point.”

Scott’s aunt, who was in the military, then becomes stationed in Florida and settles in Orlando. She tells his parents to move there, and they take her up on this invitation to a whole new world. “They were hoping that we’d have opportunities they didn’t have,” he explains. “They made the sacrifice to move and try something different, and it was literally life-changing for my brother and I. We moved to the Orlando suburbs, if you will, which was a very different environment than the one they knew.”

In Orlando, Scott suddenly finds himself right next to the Walt Disney World Resort. However, “growing up, we couldn’t really afford to go to Disney,” Scott says. He only visits the parks when, as a child actor, he gets Disney tickets as part of his payment. But in high school, he starts working in the Parades department at Disney World. Cut to February 2024, when Scott is invited to parade as a grand marshal at the Magic Kingdom — kicking off the resort’s Black History Month celebrations. “Such an insane full-circle moment,” he recalls.

As Scott finds a safer home in Orlando and grows deeper roots with Disney, one subject floats in the air like a magic carpet inviting a ride: When does being gay come up with his family? “I mean, well, first of all, it’s so funny,” he says, chuckling. “I just don’t understand how they didn’t know.”

“I told my dad, ‘I want you to meet my boyfriend.’ He asked, ‘Does he make you happy?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s all I care about.’ It’s so crazy that this was his reaction. I think about the idea of this Black man from a hard background having a little queer boy who loved singing and dancing and living his life in Victoria’s Secret lotion.”

“I was very lucky and blessed to be around people who didn’t care whether I looked or seemed different,” he adds. “We are othered in the LGBTQ+ community. We are ‘the others.’ When I think about LGBTQ+ youth and their horror stories about coming out, my heart bleeds for them.”

Everything that’s different about Scott makes him stand out to people who love his new, fantastic point of view. He goes on to major in musical theater at Webster University in St. Louis and spends his summers at a theater camp in Tampa called the Broadway Theatre Project. “That camp was started by the legendary Ann Reinking,” he says. “I was trained by people like Ben Vereen, Gregory Hines, Roy Scheider. Julie Andrews taught me voice. Gwen Verdon taught me Fosse. It’s insane when I think about.” Scott also meets his eventual husband, writer-director Jeremy Merrifield, at camp. “We say we met in the gayest way possible: at theater camp!”

Over the years, Scott becomes a musical theater veteran by starring in shows like The Book of Mormon,Mamma Mia!, and Hair. When Disney’s Aladdin opens on Broadway, Scott is in that original company as the standby for the Genie. “I wasn’t doing standby at that point in my career,” he says. “But I knew the potential, so that was a lesson of putting ego aside. James Monroe Iglehart, who originated the Genie and won the Tony [Award] for it, is like my brother. We had known of each other for many years, and he was one of the reasons why I could do this. It made sense for me to be standing by for this once-in-a-lifetime role.”

Along the way, Scott briefly leaves Aladdin to originate the role of Minstrel in Something Rotten! But he eventually gets a call from Tom Schumacher, president of the Disney Theatrical Group. “He asked, ‘Are you ready for your life to change? Are you sitting down?’ He was like, ‘We want you to originate the Genie in the Australian production of Aladdin in Sydney.’ And thus my ‘Genie journey,’ as I call it, truly began.”

Matthew Murphy

No kidding. After originating the role in Australia, Scott goes on to play the Genie in the North American tour of Aladdin as well as in the West End. In 2019 Scott comes back to New York to play the Genie on Broadway, this time in the principal cast. Unfortunately, in 2020, Broadway and the world around it shut down for lockdown. This period also marks the George Floyd protests against police brutality and the pinnacle of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“That was a crazy time to be sitting with our thoughts. We had a racial uprising happening in our country. We also had a racial uprising on Broadway. It’s so funny to talk to you, with Out. Being an out man of color, during that time, I was so popular. Everyone was like, ‘We want to hear from you.’ They were like, ‘Where are these men of color?’ And I was like, ‘I’ve always been here, boo.’”

Abracadabra! This becomes one of the busiest times in Scott’s career. However, it comes with mixed feelings. “I was on every kind of panel. People wanted to hear from me. My thoughts mattered now, which was very interesting. While I was grateful for it, I was also like, ‘Oh, now we’re getting permission to speak.’ Something shifted in me, personally. I will never be silent again. I will never apologize for taking up space.”

“I was a different man coming back to Broadway,” Scott recalls. “As an out Black man backed by one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies, I knew what that actually looked like. To lead our [theater] company during the historic reopening of Broadway, it was monumental. It was a gift. I marched, of course, and did all the things during this racial uprooting. But I decided that my protest was going to be joy. A Black man with joy: That was my protest, and that’s what I’ve been living by.”

“I wanted people to see the face of a Black man smiling and living in his joy. A man who is out and loud and proud, backed by people in Disney Theatricals who believe in my authenticity. When you’re standing in your light, no one can dim it. Historically, we’ve had people die from standing in their light, but they stood in their light. They’re remembered for it, and I stand on their shoulders.”

I suggest that his approach sounds like a kind of “joyful vengeance,” and he smiles. “I love that,” Scott says. “That’s absolutely what it was, a joyful vengeance. We know we are fierce and look good. We know that we are the culture. But there’s also real depth to us, and it’s amazing to see people listening to our experiences. We’ve been having this conversation for a long time, and now we’re having it on a world platform.”

For the ultimate dream of his career, Scott envisions a role that he can help create. “Why can’t we have a romantic comedy that is also a musical, and who’s the star? Me! Why couldn’t it be? I want to create that, not only for me, but for others who look like me. I’ve had so many angels in my life…. It’s important that I give back and create material that speaks to us. That’s the dream. That’s what I want to do. And then we’ll do another interview to talk about even more dreams.”

Aladdin, celebrating its 10th year on Broadway, is playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

This article is part of the Out May/June issue, which hits newsstands on May 28. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting May 14.

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Bernardo Sim

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.