Have you ever seen a performance in which you’re completely blown away by one specific performer? The performances that really make you pay attention to what they say and do and track them onstage. When it’s over, the only thought your brain can come up with is “How did they do that?” That’s what it’s like to watch James Monroe Iglehart shine onstage. I have been fortunate enough to see him in both Memphis and Aladdin. He is currently starring in Hamilton as Lafayette/Jefferson, and from what I hear, he is nailing this role. When he’s not busy onstage, he sharing onstage mishaps and jokes with his friends on social media. His energy is infectious, and we got to chat about work/play balance, the theatre community, staying intelligible and maintaining vocal health in some of the most vocally and physically challenging roles on Broadway. Enjoy
S: I have to start by asking, did Susan Egan call to congratulate you when you won the Tony for playing the Genie in Aladdin?
JMI: She did. She sure did. She was right, and she did call me.
S: My dad and I came to see that show the week it opened, and we loved it. She and I were there on the same night. There is nothing about that show that I didn’t love. It’s still my favorite Disney movie. There was so much Disney royalty in that theatre.
JMI: It was such a trip for her to come see the show and to talk to her. I’m such a fan. because not only is she Broadway’s Belle, but she’s Megara from Hercules. She is amazing.
S: She and I were talking and she started reciting some of Meg’s lines and I had to remind myself, in that moment of “I can’t believe this is happening,” that I can’t lose my mind over this, because we had only just started talking. It was an extremely cool thing to hear.
JMI: I get it. That’s exactly what it’s like. To hear my favorite Disney legends talk is such a trip. To hear Jonathan Freeman as Jafar and to get to work with him was something else. I would impersonate him to him, which was crazy! I would tease him, it was great!
S: It was amazing to see my childhood nightmare-inducing villain onstage. He IS Jafar. Just him.
S: I am just going to jump in on “Guns and Ships”, which you get to perform every night in Hamilton. Every speech-language pathologist wants to know how this song works. This is what we go to school for, and if we can understand it, we can teach are kids who have a difficult time speaking clearly how you all do it. How did you learn it?
JMI: Well the first thing I learned is that, with the French accent, they roll their Rs and they don’t use Hs. I learned the lyrics first. I had to go over the whole script and take out the Hs and the Rs, I didn’t realize how many Rs and Hs I was saying. Then I went back and put the French accent on it. I’ve had people who are native French speakers tell me that my French accent is really good. I’m very proud of it. Daveed Diggs and I talked about it for a long time.
S: I’m serious, if you knew how many of us were trying to dissect this, because it really should make sense to us. We can’t turn off speech brain, it doesn’t happen.
JMI: Once you get the rap, then add the accent, it’s about being understood. I ran it by my wife multiple times asking her, “Can you understand me? Can you understand me because it’s clear or because you know what I’m saying?” You have to have that feedback.
S: Yeah, I record my kids and ask them if they can understand themselves or if they just remember what they said. That’s their feedback.
S: Everything I’ve seen you in, and in your current role in Hamilton, you have always had such an infectious personality. How much of that is you, and how much of that’s what’s written?
JMI: It’s my personality. That’s what I enjoy doing, bringing as much of myself to the show as possible. With Hamilton, I knew I couldn’t do what Daveed does. Our styles are different. Daveed told me to do my thing. And it works. This is the second time I’ve stepped into a role people have called “iconic,” and both times I’ve been given the space to bring myself to both roles.
S: What’s it like being told repeatedly how big these roles are?
JMI: The fun part is people telling you, as if you don’t know what you signed up for, but the challenge is, “What can I bring to this?” The Genie and Goofy are my favorite Disney characters. I had to do that role. With Hamilton, I wanted a challenge. I auditioned the way I would do it, and if they liked it, great. And they did. What I get to bring is my baritone voice, where all the other male leads are tenors. So Jefferson now sounds very different. And it’s so much fun to play both roles every night.
S: My students and I want to ask you about Burr’s Corner. They’re so impressed that you’d share a mistake and own them on social media. They want to know how you build that confidence.
JMI: We find it hysterical. We know Hamilton has a strong social media presence. We enjoy people knowing how the show works, because people want to know what the onstage mishaps look like. It was created by Brandon Victor Dixon while playing Aaron Burr. We all went with it. Other shows do it too to explain mishaps now. When someone messes up, most of the time the audience doesn’t know it, but if they do catch it, we can explain it in our own comical way. We know exactly what was supposed to happen. It’s our way of explaining it. Messing up is a part of life. You’re gonna make mistakes. You may as well learn from them and laugh at them as well. So, you got up in class and said the wrong thing; it’s fine, it’s funny. Be able to laugh at yourself. We enjoy laughing at ourselves because it’s funny. Enjoy it and have fun with it.
S: The rule in the speech room is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself. We don’t take ourselves seriously.
S: I feel like I’d be able to recognize your voice anywhere after Memphis and Aladdin. How do you take care of it, especially in these shows with these big performance numbers, or Hamilton which is just going a mile a minute for over 2 hours?
JMI: I learned that one of the best things for your voice is sleep. I’ve realized that with microphones, you don’t have to project too much. I can belt with the best of them, and I can be loud, but the reason Jefferson speaks in a lower register is partially to protect my voice. I make sure I warm up before and after the show, and I’m pretty chill once I’m home for the night. I also have a wonderful voice teacher who helps me.
S: What is the work/play balance between you all—we’ve seen the pranks and scaring each other on social media! Especially with scaring Nik Walker.
JMI: We play for a living. It’s recess for a living, but we have to take it seriously. Have fun with the job. In high school, I scared people for fun. That was what I did. Now keep in mind, I’m scared of everyone. I watch horror movies only in my own home where I can scream at whatever happens because I’m loud and it’s scary. I’m so aware, because I’m looking for it, of people trying to scare me. The fun part is, Nik has been trying to get me back since the forst time. I have now scared him officially on social media seven times. The best part about last night was he saw me, he caught me, and he made the fatal mistake of turning his back on me. I’m fully expecting to get it back, though. And I think Don Daryl Rivera will help Nik. Because I scared Don Daryl Rivera for three years over at Aladdin.
S: Was it you who inspired LJ to do it?
JMI: Yes. That was my doing. Because once I left, DDR didn’t have anyone to scare. And you have to have fun in your job. Especially when you’re doing a serious show like Hamilton, you have to have some levity. Did you hear about the fly incident?
S: Yes, you told that story on The Hamilcast.
JMI: It happened again! Same scene, this time with Daniel Breaker. He said the same thing happened in Chicago. Same audience reaction. We did our best not to break, and we didn’t stop rapping. Turns out, flies are attracted to shiny things, and when you’re bald, the light reflects off of your head. Same scene, same place.
S: Since I’m already talking about The Hamilcast, you brought this up when you spoke with Gillian. I didn’t know how much I needed you and Lesli Margherita to do something together. Can that please happen?
JMI: We want it to happen. We’d have to be onstage together. We wouldn’t be able to follow each other. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s going to be fun.
S: You guys were onstage at different times at BroadwayCon.
JMI: BroadwayCon was the best time. That is something that’s just gonna keep getting better and bigger every year, because everyone is going to want to be a part of it if they’re not already.
S: Have you always been really good at rebounding from onstage mishaps or was that learned?
JMI: I’d been doing that since I was a kid. I did improv and you have to be able to bounce back since I was a little kid. With freestyling too, you can pretty much get out of any situation if you’re thinking fast on your feet. That’s what improv and freestyling is.
S: Every week I challenge my readers and students to get outside of their comfort zone. What would you have them do?
JMI: I’d challenge them to do what they’re procrastinating doing. What they want to do, but they say they don’t have time to do. Make the time and see what happens. After they try the thing, they’ll actually know how they feel about whatever they’re putting off to later.
S: I can’t wait to share that with my kids. They’ll all learn something from it, especially the kids who don’t love hearing “no.” I’m so grateful I was raised being told no.
JMI: What’s interesting is the real world doesn’t say “yes” all the time. And I’ve also learned your parents aren’t intelligent until you get older. When you’re a kid you know everything. The older you get the smarter your parents get. And your feelings as a kid are certainly valid, because they’re yours, but we all learn as we grow up that our parents know what they’re talking about.
I had so much fun with this conversation, and a lot of it reminded me of how I found my love for theatre initially and why I continue to love it. It’s the people who make you lean in, take note, and take action on what you really believe in. I am eager to see what my students stop procrastinating on, what I myself stop procrastinating…that’s a never-ending list, and what you all decide to do next. I will be here cheering you on every step of the way.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP