Chances are you may have heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.”
For actor Jonathan Weir his ambition in ninth-grade to be able to entertain and evoke a reaction from an audience has been granted and is obvious eight times a week during the national touring production of Disney’s Aladdin. The show is currently on the road after kicking off its nationwide campaign in April 2017 at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre.
The stage production expands the 90-minute 1992 animated movie into a two-act live-action format and is nearly identical to the original Broadway production which continues to reign supreme at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York. There have been a few minor modifications to the roadshow to accommodate the production playing in a variety of theater spaces across the country.
“It is the same physical production as on Broadway,” says Weir. “Same costumes, cast size, orchestrations, and choreography,” notes the actor. And the iconic magic carpet actually takes flight in the production but don’t ask him to share any backstage secrets. Weir fiendishly chuckles “I could tell you, but I would have to kill you.” Opting for living and continuing my interview I just settled for Disney magic as the response to my question.
Weir is no stranger to Disney Theatrical Productions. The veteran stage actor has portrayed iconic characters in Disney’s The Lion King. “I was a stand-by for Scar and Pumbaa on the second national tour, left after a year and Disney kept on calling and asking me to come back for a couple of years as a stand-by. I had a 14-year relationship with Disney and The Lion King.”
There is something Weir enjoys portraying Disney villains adding “they are extreme characters. You have extreme points of view, who are hungry and to play a character who is the antagonist and who has an opposing strong point of view from everyone else in the show, it is a lovely palate to play on. You get to explore so much”
In Aladdin, Weir’s transformation into the sinister Jafar is remarkable. To sit across the actor, you would never know Weir is the same guy who for eight performances a week dons the headpiece, tunic and cape and wreaks havoc on the palace in Agrabah.
Weir arrives at the theater about an hour and fifteen minutes before the curtain. Before heading to wardrobe Weir hits the makeup chair. It takes about 45 minutes for the actor to be switch over into the Royal Vizier. The process of removing the makeup is much easier and faster. “It takes about three minutes to get out of it,” Weir confesses using “a little Albolene and Kiehl’s and you wash it off.”
Just like his makeup and his voice, Weir considers the cape an extension of his character. “It is about 20 pounds-plus of fabric between the tunic and the cape.” Sometimes it appears as if the cape has a mind of its own. Weir wickedly responds, “sometimes the cape wins and sometimes I win.”
The weight of the clock is nothing compared to some of the other costumes Weir has had to wear. “If anyone has seen The Lion King, I always say doing Scar was like acting in an iron-lung and doing Pumbaa was like acting with an air stream trailer on your butt.” Weir estimates that Scar’s ensemble weighed in at 40 pounds while Pumbaa tipped the scales at 45 pounds.
Whether it is a lion, warthog or consultant to the sultan, suiting up to play any of these characters means an actor has to be in top physical condition to execute the role, something that Weir says has changed from when he first started out as an actor. He advises that any performer has to be prepared mentally and physically for the part.
The youngest of ten children, Weir discovered the magic of acting in the ninth grade. While attending a production of The King and I, starring Pernell Roberts at The Muni in St. Louis, he was moved by the reaction of a couple sitting in front of him in the audience. At the end of the production when the king dies, a woman placed her head on her male companion’s shoulder and Weir knew “I wanted to be able to do that.”
And today years after that theater experience, Weir says being part of Aladdin, “continues to be a gift, because opportunities like this as an actor come along infrequently and to play at this level and to be fully supported on a national tour,” is truly a chance of a lifetime.
While street-wise Aladdin is granted three wishes in the Cave of Wonders once he sets the Genie free, what would Weir personally wish for if given the chance. “More time with my family,” Weir begins along with wishing that elected officials would remember who they work for, and finally conceding to “a month’s vacation in Tahiti.”
But for now that exotic respite is a dream as the touring production continues to travel across the country with upcoming stops in Louisville, Columbus, St. Louis, Des Moines and San Diego just to name a few of the cities that Aladdin’s magic carpet will touch down.