He might make a Broadway showstopper look like magic, but Korie Lee Blossey sweats for it. Soon after taking the stage as the Genie in "Aladdin," he performs the number "Friend Like Me." It’s work.
"You pop up out of the lamp. Nonstop until the end of the number," Blossey says. "And there's a good four-minute tap dance at the end. In case the cartwheel wasn’t enough, we’re going to throw in a tap dance."
Audiences won’t need a lamp to conjure the 40-year-old actor in Austin this month. The touring production of "Aladdin" — a Broadway musical adaptation of Disney’s 1992 animated hit about the titular pickpocket and a jovial djinn — runs March 11-22 at Bass Concert Hall. The Bay City, Mich., native has played the Genie full time in the tour since September, after about three years as a standby.
Spoiler: Blossey doesn’t actually get a full blue paint job to look like the beloved wish-granter, first voiced by Robin Williams and last year played by a CGI-tinted Will Smith in a live-action remake. The animated Genie magically assumed new looks and new voices at the drop of a hat; Williams made a career out of such chameleonlike spontaneity.
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Blossey is aware of whose billowing pants he’s filled.
"Nobody's able to do Robin Williams," Blossey says. "But the (stage show’s) director, Casey Nicholaw, is a creative genius. He finds what makes the individual stand out — like, ‘What can Korey do that nobody else can?’ Those are the things we focus on in my Genie."
We spoke with Blossey on the phone before his Genie swirls into town. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
American-Statesman: Were you a fan of the original, animated "Aladdin" coming into the show?
Korie Lee Blossey: Yeah, when I was younger, that was one of my favorite movies. I watched it over and over again. And I was always like, "Man, I've got to do a costume, like paint my body blue and go as the Genie." Never got that far. (Laughs)
I was Aladdin for Halloween one year, so I get the impulse. You said that nobody is able to do Robin Williams. Is there any way in which his portrayal of the Genie character influenced you?
To try and think about him while you're creating the Genie, you're going to try to start doing things he does, in my mind. To me, he’s just that source of life, that source of energy. It just was all about putting a smile on people's faces. And that's kind of how I like to live my life.
The Genie’s storyline is so much about friendship, specifically his friendship with Aladdin. He has a whole song about it, "Friend Like Me." Are there friendships in your life that have helped the character’s story resonate a little bit more with you?
Being on stage with the actor who plays Aladdin — his name's Jonah (Hookano) — is an exceptional treat. And when I took over as the Genie full time, he started as Aladdin in the show, so we kind of started together. Any time I go out on that stage, I know that he's out there. So I'm like, "We can do this. Let's do this. Let's do it together." The friendship that we have built onstage has turned into a great friendship offstage.
What’s your favorite number to perform as the Genie?
"Friend Like Me" — it's a doozy. It’s the hardest 18 minutes I have ever worked. But it is the greatest feeling with the audience. You connect with the audience, you connect with Aladdin. You connect with everybody that comes onstage in the number. There's not enough time to think about what you're actually doing. Then by the end of it, there's just this joy that, "I just did that." And at the same time, you're (singing the lyric), "Can your friends do this?" And not a lot of people can do that (18-minute) number, so you get to hold onto that pride like, "I just did this! Nobody can do this!"
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Tell me a little bit about that choreography.
When I first auditioned for (the Genie), I went home and was like, "Well, now I know why I'm not going to be the Genie, because I can't tap dance." (Laughs.) I would just take the choreography home, and I would film friends doing it at rehearsal. Every night before I went to bed, I would do "Friend Like Me" three times. And that’s a lot of work! That's good cardio.
Tell me about the costume. How does it move? Is it restrictive? It looks pretty opulent.
Oh, magical. I would say anytime you do theater, guys are in regular clothes and suits. The women have always had these big, beautiful dresses and these fancy costumes. (These are) those fancy costumes and elaborate costumes that I got to see everybody else wearing. They move really well. They surprisingly breathe really well. ... Everything looks a lot heavier than it really is.
The first time I put on the main Genie costume, I cried. That was such a great feeling. That sense of pride, that sense of accomplishment and the wonderful feeling of wearing these elegant, extreme Broadway costumes. And the fact that they weren't heavy and restricting only helps. Then you're not thinking, "Oh, how am I gonna do this in this?" You’re like, "Oh, I could take over the world in this."
I’m sure it was cool to see yourself as that character.
Exactly — like, "Look, you are that person. You’ve wanted this for so long, and look, it’s you."
Speaking of working hard, what is your dream role? Or do you have one?
Well, now the dream role is to start focusing on another dream role, since this was my dream role. From the time I saw "Aladdin" on the Tony Awards, I was like, "I have to do that. I have to play that role. I somehow, some way, I have to do that." And the first time I auditioned for it, I waited eight hours in an audition room, and I was in the last group of 10 people seen at that audition. And I was like, "Well, I mean, I'll keep doing it until they cast me. They'll see me here every audition." To actually get the role is the greatest and the hardest thing I've ever done. Now that I know that I can do this, I can do anything now. If I can do "Friend Like Me" eight times a week, there's not a show on paper that I would not be able to do.
Korie, is there anything else we should know?
When you see the show, by the end you realize you never needed a genie. Nobody needs a genie. Nobody needs a miracle. You just have to find out the true "you" deep down inside your heart. Once you find you, you can literally do anything you want. You just have to work for it. There's no wish, there's no genie. There's no lottery that's gonna make that happen. It has to be found in you. Doing this role, I have found that in me.