Major Attaway was the first to take over the role of The Genie in Aladdin from Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart and currently holds the title of Broadway’s longest running Genie, with over 1500 performances from 2016-19. That legendary character has also served as the inspiration for his solo cabaret concert Major Attaway: The Genie’s Jukebox, which played and livestreamed for one night only on January 31, at Feinstein’s/54 Below. And it was magical!
An embodiment of pure joy, with an infectious love of what he does that radiated throughout the house and kept me smiling and cheering for every second of the show, the star is a natural-born performer and storyteller, with a stage presence and talent that are irresistible in every way. He has a rich and melodious powerhouse voice with a masterful range (tenor/baritone/bass), an open and personable demeanor that makes everyone feel welcome and embraced, and an engagingly expressive face and moves that eloquently capture the themes and characters of the songs he sings with apropos emotions and spot-on comic timing.
The intimate cabaret act was interspersed with direct-address comments before and between numbers, so that fans could get to know Attaway and his source material even better. He shared his three reasons for wanting to do the show (#1 of which was to work with Disney), along with some fascinating facts about his role, noting that the look and sound of the iconic Genie character was originally conceived by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman as “a hip Harlem jazz singer, like Fats Waller or Cab Calloway” (observing that “Black men are made of magic” – with which I can agree that Attaway surely is!). Though their concept was eventually changed for Disney’s 1992 animated film, it was brought back to life for the Broadway musical, which premiered in 2014, and was delivered to perfection in Attaway’s high-energy swing-era stylings of The Genie’s Jukebox.
Opening with a knockout performance of Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” with witty reworked lyrics that fit the present show, the lively set list featured the songs of a roster of popular and villainous figures from an assortment of Disney hits, reimagined here as cohorts of the Genie. Among them were Cruella de Vil’s theme from 101 Dalmations, “You’re Only Second Rate” from The Return of Jafar (another character in Aladdin), “Friends on the Other Side” and “When I’m Human” from The Princess and the Frog, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” from The Aristocats (a personal favorite, which even included a final “meow” from the singer), and more. And he left the stage with a closing encore of “Hit the Road Genie,” a funny repurposed version of the Ray Charles chart-topper “Hit the Road Jack.”
Attaway was accompanied on stage by a swinging four-piece band – Eugene Gwodz on piano, Jeff Koch on bass, Ray Marchica on drums, and musical director Augie Haas on trumpet – who took the spotlight for accomplished instrumental solos and engaged in amusing banter with him. They were joined by special guest singer Korie Lee Blossey, who also performed the role of Genie (on the national tour of Disney’s Aladdin). Their uplifting camaraderie was evident in entertaining duets on “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan and “A Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, in their hilarious banter with each other and the audience, and in Blossey’s serious reflection on the scarcity of roles available to “big men of color” (we can all hope and urge that the new Broadway will offer increased opportunities for such outstanding artists as these). Blossey also displayed “all that vocal prowess” in his rendition of the Randy Newman song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story 4, which even included a brief bit of soft shoe.
If you missed the magic in NYC, Attaway will be taking this spellbinding show on the road, with an upcoming date in his native Texas on February 12. For more information, or to request bookings at venues in your area, visit his website.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
Major Attaway: The Genie’s Jukebox played on January 31, 2022, at 9:45 pm, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. The performance was also livestreamed on Live from Feinstein’s/54 Below.
The show will play next on Saturday, February 12, 2022, at 7:30 pm, at Downtown Cowtown (the Historic Isis Theatre), 2401 North Main St., Fort Worth, Texas. General admission is $32; for tickets, go online.