Disney’s Aladdin musical will stop at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre from March 8 – 12 as part of its national tour. The role of Iago, the loveable (yet evil) sidekick of Jafar, the classic Disney villain, will be played by Loudonville, Ohio native, Aaron Choi. Settled on the tip of Holmes County, Loudonville struggles to even call itself a suburb of a major city, and is closer to Columbus than Cleveland, but Choi still considers these shows to be a homecoming. In a recent phone interview with CleveRock, Choi expressed his excitement to perform in front of his family, who still dwell in the Buckeye State.
After studying in Columbus, OH at Capital University, followed by a three-year stint performing in Pennsylvania, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois, which he has called home for the past decade.
Choi, who has a plethora of experience in regional theater gigs, is now on the road for the first time as part of a national touring company. So far, the actor is loving it!
“It’s been pretty great for me. I love traveling. So, road life, for me, wasn’t a huge transition. I. tried to travel at least once a year prior to going on tour,” he said.“Weirdly enough, I enjoy packing because it’s something about organizing that I really enjoy. It’s not been too rough of a transition. I think the biggest transition I’ve had with touring has just been going to different places with different weather. And, because, like, right now it’s warm, but the pollen is really bad, so my allergies are really bad. Going in and out every week from different places is a little tough on your body, especially when you’re in your late 30s. Other than that, the adjustment hasn’t been too bad for me. I’m personally pretty good about just kind of adapting to my situations and the area. It’s kind of perfect for me. I really enjoy it.“
Patrons coming to Playhouse Square to catch Aladdin will witness a story that deviates slightly from the 1992 animated film or the 2019 live-action film starring Will Smith. Changes had to be made to the stage show. Yes, Disney certainly has mastered the art of puppetry (reference: Lion King), it just wasn’t in cards for Aladdin.
“In the stage version of the show, there are no animal sidekicks in this,” Choi explained. “All of them are now humans. Iago was obviously not a human, and then, in the case of Aladdin’s sidekick, Abu, he is replaced by three human friends who actually were originally supposed to be in the animated film. Fun fact! The scenes and songs and things were ultimately combined into Abu the monkey. When they decided to make the stage version, they went back through some of the older drafts of the film. They pulled out these characters and some of these scenes and songs and reworked them to work for the stage version.”
Certainly, Disney purists will be a little irked that the Abu character is not part of the show and that Iago isn’t a flapping parrot, but this interviewer has seen the stage version previously and can attest that the show flows better and makes more sense this way.
For Choi, to say that the role of Iago is a dream come true would be a drastic understatement. His hard work and persistence in landing this role paid off when he got the call that he was hitting the road with this national tour.
“I’ve actually auditioned for the role of Iago about six or seven times. I auditioned for the original Broadway production, and then the Broadway replacements, and then the national tour and tour replacements. I’ve been back and forth for this role. It’s been one of these shows and roles that I just knew that I needed to be in the show,” he tells us. “With it being one of my favorite movies growing up, I auditioned for the Broadway production and obviously did not get it, but I got to see the show on Broadway. I knew it was something I wanted to go for. And, the role of Iago specifically, was just a fun role. I knew that was something I wanted. I just kept trying for it and it finally happened.“
Part of the reason this role was so appealing to Iago is that Choi was in the pre-middle school years when the animated film was released. This interviewer, not dissimilar in Choi to age with both of us being in our late 30s, the movie was a staple in both of our collections.
“I didn’t see it in theaters, but It was one of the first VHS tapes that I remember just wearing down because I watched it a lot. Aladdin was one of my favorites growing up,” he confirmed. “The. music in it and the story; I always really enjoyed the animated film. I thought it was very funny. I guess that’s kind of where I got a lot of my comedic timing from and I was very drawn to comedy. In the animated film with the likes of Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried, two big comedic hard hitters in it, voicing characters, even at that age, I didn’t really know who they were, but I knew that they were funny. It was always one of my favorite Disney movies growing up. It was one that I would always come back to.”
Iago is a funny character. Much like Gilbert Gottfried voicing him in the 1992 version, the stage show character relies heavily on comedic timing, the way Iago is voiced, and overall, the way the actor interprets the character. Tying together that Aladdin was one of Choi’s favorite childhood movies and his persistence in auditioning for his coveted role, he was asked, as an actor, how much of said timing, voicing, etc, can one be taught through traditional acting training, and how much of it comes from one’s natural talents?
“That’s a great question! I think it depends on the role. It depends on the demands of the role. I would say with Iago, It’s kind of 50-50. The training that kind of goes into it that I’m very happy that I have in this role is the vocal training. Iago go does a lot of shouting. I do a character voice for Iago. And, just to protect my voice, knowing how to project it correctly and how to get myself to this character voice and do it eight times a week without damaging my voice, that is what I’m very thankful for because I know how to approach that so I can maintain my voice throughout it.,” he answered. “Then, when it comes to some other parts of it, character-wise, I mean, Iago is a funny character. He’s a comedic character. It’s tough, because, I don’t know, I am still kind of on the fence when it comes to whether comedy is natural or if it can be taught. I’m not really sure. Personally, I’ve always been told that I am funny. I tend to go for funny roles. I guess, for me, it’s kind of a natural thing. I kind of fall into the comedic timing. For this role specifically, is more 50-50.
For both repeat customers and the uninitiated, Aladdin is a show that audiences absolutely love. Without giving too many of the show’s secrets away, Choi was asked to fill us in on why audiences adore this musical so much.
“Obviously, the magic carpet is always the big ‘WOW’ factor, but other than that, I would say just the colors in the show. I know that kind of sounds like a weird thing to say, but the show is just so bright and colorful. Not just the costumes, but lighting and the set design. Everything just has such a vibrant impact that you can’t help but feel is kind of uplifting. You just feel transported into a completely different place,” he said. “The other thing, I would say that’s not really a specific scene or seen in the show, but I would say the comedy of the show. That is something that’s pretty surprising for a lot of people because they didn’t realize how funny the show is. Not to toot my own horn, but I think it’s a pretty funny show, in no small part to me and many of my other cast members.”
Thinking I could catch him off-guard, Choi was asked about the behind-the-scenes aspects that make the show unforgettable. How does the carpet fly? How does the genie make his exit from the lamp? What’s the secret to [spoiler redacted]?
“I can’t give away really anything. It’s Disney magic,” Choi said with a laugh. “I think for some of the special effects in this production, we utilize some mixed projections with practical things, which really adds a whole new level. There are also a few quick costume changes that are really spectacular. Those are jaw-droppers. Those are some things that I can mention. I do the show every night and a few months ago, I got to watch a full rehearsal. It’s kind of crazy because I do the show every night and I know how things are done. I know all the special effects. And still, it was just. mind-blowing. Just seeing it. It’s such a fun show!