Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

SESAME STREET’s Alan Muraoka Stars as Iago in Broadway’s ALADDIN through Oct. 30

Broadway vet Alan Muraoka is currently back on the Great White Way for a limited run through October 30th, starring as Iago in Disney’s Aladdin, now in its third smash year at the New Amsterdam Theatre.  Mr. Muraoka is most recognizable for his role in the Emmy-winning series, Sesame Street, where he has played Alan, the proprietor of Hooper’s Store, for 18 seasons.

SESAME STREET's Alan Muraoka

SESAME STREET’s Alan Muraoka

Prior to Aladdin, Mr. Muraoka has appeared in six Broadway shows: the Roundabout Theatre revival of Pacific Overtures, The King and I, My Favorite Year, Shogun, the Musical, Mail, and most notably Miss Saigon, where he played the lead role of the Engineer. He is featured in the films, It Could Happen to You, and Day of Independence. Other television credits include Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie, 30 Rock, Brotherhood, Late Night With David Letterman, and The Tonight Show, as well as numerous commercials.

Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, Aladdin features music by Tony Award and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Sister Act), lyrics by two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid), three-time Tony Award and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (Evita, Aida) and four-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), with a book by Beguelin, and is directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw, who makes history this spring as director-choreographer of four concurrent Broadway musicals.

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed in Aladdin. Credit: Deen Van Meer

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed in Aladdin.
Credit: Deen Van Meer

Aladdin stars Adam Jacobs (Les MiserablesThe Lion King) in the title role, Courtney Reed (In the Heights, Mamma Mia) as Jasmine, James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) in his Tony Award-winning role of Genie, and, as Jafar, Tony Award nominee Jonathan Freeman (Mary Poppins, The Producers, She Loves Me) brings to the stage the role he indelibly created in the animated film. The show also stars Steel Burkhardt, Brian Gonzales and Brad Weinstock as Aladdin’s sidekicks Babkak, Kassim and Omar, Clifton Davis as Sultan.

Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart and the cast of 'Aladdin' performing at the 2014 Tony Awards. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart and the cast of ‘Aladdin’ performing at the 2014 Tony Awards. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

In a cast of 37, Aladdin also features Kathryn Allison, Tia Altinay, Mike Cannon, Andrew Cao, Lauryn Ciardullo, Joshua Dela Cruz, Yurel Echezarreta, Tiffany Evariste, Damon J. Gillespie, Daisy Hobbs, Rodney Ingram, Adam Kaokept, Nathan Lucrezio, Stanley Martin, Michael Mindlin, Amber Owens, Alfie Parker, Jr., Khori Michelle Petinaud, Jennifer Rias, Trent Saunders, Jaz Sealey, Angelo Soriano, Dennis Stowe, Kathryn Terza and Travis Ward-Osborne.

Aladdin is designed by seven-time Tony-winning scenic designer Bob Crowley, five-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz, two-time Tony-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes and sound designer Ken Travis.

The production team also includes illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer, hair designer Josh Marquette and makeup designer Milagros Medina-Cerdeira. The music team is headed by music supervisor and music director Michael Kosarin, who also created the vocal and incidental music arrangements, joined by orchestrator Danny Troob and dance music arranger Glen Kelly.

Alan carved out a little time to answer some questions about his limited run in Aladdin.

Alan Muraoka. Photo by Lia Chang

Alan Muraoka. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: When was the last time you were on Broadway?
Alan: My last time on a Broadway stage was in 2004 in the revival of Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures at Studio 54. 12 years! Yikes!

The Pacific Overtures' Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

The Company of Pacific Overtures in 2004. Photo by Joan Marcus

Alan Muraoka signing autographs at the stage door of Broadway's ALADDIN. Photo courtesy of Alan Muraoka

Alan Muraoka signing autographs at the stage door of Broadway’s ALADDIN. Photo courtesy of Alan Muraoka

Lia: What was your rehearsal/put-in process like?
Alan: I had actually auditioned over a year ago to cover the actor who originated the role for a leave of absence he wanted to take, but that ended up not  happening. When I got the call to offer me the job, I was terrified because it had been 12 years since my last Broadway show. I have been doing more directing and of course, Sesame Street, so my chops were very rusty. My singing technique was gone and I was out of shape for the stamina needed to do 8 shows a week. Doing any Broadway run is an endurance test. And I was also terrified because the actor that I was filling in for (Don Darryl Rivera) has put such an indelible stamp on the part. He is brilliant, and I had to find a way to match him that wasn’t a carbon copy or so different that it would throw the show out of balance. Luckily the creative team were folks that knew me: I went to college with the director Casey Nicholaw, I know the Associate Director Scott Taylor from working in the city, and I knew the Dance Captain Michael Mindlin because he has choreographed shows that I have directed. It was a very safe room. I also went back to voice lessons with Deric Rosenblatt, who helped me find a way to both sing and scream (I do a lot of screaming as Iago) in a safe and healthy way. I was encouraged to try new things, and I have found moments that are different but still humorous. So my first show was supposed to be on Thursday, September 8th. They have what is called a “put in,” where the entire cast is there and you run the show with them so you become familiar with traffic patterns, placement, etc. But they had an emergency on Wednesday, and asked me if I would go on a day early without the benefit of the “put in.” Of course I said “yes,” and it was both terrifying and thrilling to run the show for the first time in front of an audience. So I tried my costume and wig on for the first time that night.  And I had never run my costume changes or the last two scenes of the show until that very night. I made it through without any major gaffs, but my heart was racing the whole time.

Lia: For those who are not familiar with the storyline of Aladdin, who is Iago?
Alan: In the movie, Iago was Jafar’s parrot that was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. It was a conscious decision that for the musical Iago would be a real person, not an animal. So in the show Iago is the henchman and lackey to the evil Jafar, and aids him in his attempt to get a hold of the magical lamp and take over the kingdom. Iago is maniacal and over-reactive, but the audience still loves him. Well, loves to hate him. In the show he is a comic character, and has some wonderful and delicious lines. I love him and it’s so fun to play the opposite of both my Sesame Street character and me in my everyday life.

Ann Harada and Adam Jacobs in the 4th installment of Christmas Eve’s Holiday Hunkfest, a benefit for BC/EFA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Alan Muraoka

Ann Harada and Adam Jacobs in the 4th installment of Christmas Eve’s Holiday Hunkfest, a benefit for BC/EFA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Alan Muraoka

Lia: Have you ever worked with Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart or Jonathan Freeman? 
Alan: The only actors that I have worked with, albeit very briefly, are Adam Jacobs and James Monroe Iglehart. I direct a benefit every year with Ann Harada for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, and Adam was a guest star in last year’s show. And James guest starred in a segment on Sesame Street, and I was in a song with him. But now we’re getting to share a stage 8 times a week, so I’m catching up for lost time!

Lia: What was your relationship to Aladdin, prior to your first performance?
Alan: I had seen the show in previews, and loved it and loved the Iago character especially. This was long before I was asked to come in to audition for it. Actually, during the initial casting, I was brought in for the role of the Sultan, but I was totally the wrong type for what Casey had in mind for the role.

Lia: What is different now that Sesame Street is being produced by HBO?
Alan: I will begin filming my 18th season of Sesame Street, I kid you not, the day after I finish in Aladdin. This was not pre-planned, but a happy coincidence. The only big difference now that the show is on HBO is that it is a half hour format rather than an hour, but that was a decision that was made before the HBO merger. HBO has been a wonderful partner, and it has afforded us many more opportunities for specials, touring, etc. It’s been great.

SESAME STREET's Alan Muraoka performed at the White House for their annual Easter Egg Roll in 2016. Photo by Lia Chang

SESAME STREET’s Alan Muraoka performed at the White House for their annual Easter Egg Roll in 2016. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What have been your favorite projects this year?
Alan: Besides Aladdin and my return to the Great White Way, I had the honor of performing at the White House for their annual Easter Egg Roll. To be able to perform under the Obama Presidency was one of the highlights of my career, and I admire the President and First Lady so much for all they have done for the country. We took a picture with the First Lady, and in the picture I have my arm around her. That is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Alan Muraoka and the cast of Sesame Street in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on November 27, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Alan Muraoka and the cast of Sesame Street in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York on November 27, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What’s coming up?
Alan: Season 48 of Sesame Street begins filming, like I said, after I leave the show, so there’s that. I’m also choreographing the number for the Sesame Street float for this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This will be the 4th time I’ve done this and it is always the best day of the year for me.

And then on December 12th I’ll be directing Ann Harada in our 5th installment of Christmas Eve’s Holiday Hunkfest, a benefit for BC/EFA. We haven’t finalized location as of yet, so go to either my website (www.alanmuraoka.tv) or the BC/EFA website for updates.

Ann Harada in the 4th installment of Christmas Eve’s Holiday Hunkfest, a benefit for BC/EFA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Ann Harada/Facebook

Ann Harada in the 4th installment of Christmas Eve’s Holiday Hunkfest, a benefit for BC/EFA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Ann Harada/Facebook

Alan Muraoka

Alan Muraoka

As a director, Mr. Muraoka received critical praise for his Off-Broadway revival of Falsettoland (National Asian American Theater Company). Other New York credits include: The Report (NY Fringe Festival), Kung Fu (Signature Theatre-Assistant Director), Ann Harada: American Songbook (Lincoln Center), Awesomer & Awesomer!!! (Triad Theatre), Telly Leung: Playlist andWhat Makes a Man? (54 Below), Grand Hotel (NYU/Cap 21), John Tartaglia AD-LIBerty (Joe’s Pub), Christmas Eve With Christmas Eve 1,2, & 3 (BC/EFA Benefits). Regionally: Once On This Island (Olney Theatre), At the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City: The King and I, Xanadu, Disney’s High School Musical and Disney’s High School Musical 2. Other regional credits includeDisney’s High School Musical (MUNY, Casa Manana), Urinetown (Trinity University), and Associate Director for Up In The Air (Kennedy Center). Television: Alan has directed for Sesame Street and for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Mr. Muraoka is a member of the SSDC & the DGA.

Mr. Muraoka is a graduate of UCLA, where he received the Carol Burnett Musical Comedy Award for performance. He was also the 2004 recipient of the APEX Inspiration Award and the FCC’s 2007 Role Model of the Year Award. Please visit his website at: www.alanmuraoka.tv. You can also follow him on Instagram @alanathoopers.

Night shot of Disney's Aladdin Broadway Show in NYC, exterior view at the New Amsterdam Theatre

Night shot of Disney’s Aladdin Broadway Show in NYC, exterior view at the New Amsterdam Theatre

Aladdin on Broadway in New York has 7:00 pm shows on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 8:00pm shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, the Aladdin Broadway musical offers a 1:00pm matinee on Wednesday and a 2:00pm matinee on Saturdays. The New Amsterdam Theatre is located at 214 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036. Click here to purchase tickets and here to enter the Broadway Direct Lottery.

Alan Muraoka talks navigating The Fringe Festival at the helm of Martin Casella’s critically-acclaimed THE REPORT
Times Square Chronicles: Fringe Festival: Calling All Producers The Report is the Play to See
nytheaternow.com:THE REPORT
StageBuddy.com: FringeNYC Review: The Report
Broadwayworld.com: Photo Flash: First Look at THE REPORT as Part of FringeNYC

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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