Breakout Stars Ushering in a New Golden Age on Broadway: Frozen Star Jelani Alladin
BroadwayBox teams up with photographer Curtis Brown to present "Ushering in a New Golden Age", an exclusive photo and interview series in which we spotlight the breakout stars from the 2018 Broadway season and style each like Broadway's original age. This illustrious crew of Tony nominees, Drama Desk nominees, and fan favorites was photographed at the beautiful Hudson Theatre (home to next season's new musical Head Over Heels). Next up in the series is Jelani Alladin, who makes his Broadway debut leading the new Disney musical adaptation of Frozen as Kristoff.
1. Was there a big role in high school or college that gave you the confidence to pursue this?
The Emcee in Cabaret. I was 16. I remember I had to be in drag for the first time and I had to learn how to tap dance. The choreographer was like, “There’s going to be a tap number.” And I said, “I don’t know what that means.” But at the end, I thought, “Oh, I could do this.” I had a fearless energy.
2. What has changed most in your life since taking on this role?
I’m in a position where I walk down the street and randomly someone will stop me and say, “Hey, you’re Kristoff in Frozen! I’m so thankful for what you’re doing and who you are.” That for me is the biggest takeaway and the most gratifying thing about this whole experience. The job is showing up at the theatre and doing your job, but the job is also inspiring other people to rise up and go after their dreams. That’s what Frozen has given me the most.
3. This series is all about this Broadway season’s breakout performers. If you could time machine back and see any big Broadway icon’s breakout stage performance, whose would you want to go back and see?
I’d want to go see Denzel in his breakout. We’ve all seen the movies, but I’d want to see what his first stage performance was like. I remember seeing Fences and thinking, I’d love to see his first play and Viola’s first play—what were they like in their purest form? That’s exciting to me.
4. What’s the most sentimental thing in your dressing room?
I did this production of Violet a few years ago that really changed my life. I was actually at a place where I said I’m never going to do musical theatre again. I didn’t believe in myself in terms of being a singer—I still struggle with insecurity of singing a lot. I did this production of Violet and I played Flick, which is like the most epic sing. I had to get over this hurdle and accept that this is my voice and this is all it does, and it can be anything I want it to be. This production taught me that. Then something in me unlocked—a new fire.
Yolanda Treece (who played Almeta, Flick’s mother figure in the piece) gave me this plaquette along with a purple bandana I wear every day to wrap my head in when I put on my costume. The plaque says, “Be still and know that I am God,” and around it says, “You are full of love.” That’s something I keep to remind me to stay humble and to remind me that the experience opened up so much more in me. It means a lot to me.
5. What’s been your biggest obstacle in reaching the point where you’re leading a new Broadway musical? ?
I think the biggest obstacle that every actor goes through is accepting all that you are and trusting everything is already inside you. Everyone is talented but our individualism and our idiosyncrasies make us. My flaws and the way I feel every time I open my mouth to sing, it never goes away because that’s who I am.
6. You are originating the role of Kristoff onstage. What advice would you give to future actors who will one day play Kristoff in Frozen—be it on Broadway, on tour or at their school?
I want them to know he is far further than one dimensional. He can be the almighty strong man when he needs to be, and he can also be the extremely vulnerable sweet soul when he needs to be. He goes on a journey of discovering how to love. He gets this beautiful moment understanding what love is for the first time. To recreate that every night, I go through a lot. I remember the first time I fell in love with someone. You have to really understand that and reckon with that in a lullaby way rather than explosive way.
Also, I love this quote from Halloweentown of all things: “Magic is really very simple, all you’ve got to do is want something and then let yourself have it.” Any person who works on a Disney should know that quote because creating the magic isn’t just onstage, it’s also between you and your fellow actors as well.
Photographed by Curtis Brown at The Hudson Theatre. Makeup by Claudia Eltabie & Liv Swenson from Rouge Makeup Salons, Hair by Austin Thornton, Styling by Kinsland Howell Alice in Kinsland Styling. Clothing courtesy of Haupt shirts, Alberto pants, Carl Gross Vests, Our showroom, Hyela Makoujy.
Click here to see the entire "Ushering in a New Golden Age" series, and don't miss Jelani Alladin in Frozen at Broadway's St. James Theatre.