He is, as Iago puts it in the classic Disney movie, the “all-powerful villain”.
“A vile traitor!” said the king.
And, in a short period of time, as he himself declared, “the most powerful witch In the world!”
Jonathan Freeman first voiced Disney’s villain Jafar in the animated film “Aladdin” in 1992, continued to be mocked in subsequent films and then went on to begin his role in the film. Broadway, which debuted in 2014. He has used his cobra stick in hundreds of performances since, playing the role for nearly eight years.
That was until Sunday night, with a performance he decided would be his last.
Backstage that evening, Freeman’s dressing room was almost cleaned up. The bare walls, the day bed is gone. Symbols of appreciation include flowers, a gift of wine and a thank you note from the person opening the door.
An insert in the Playbill warns the audience that Freeman will make his “last bow” in “Aladdin.” The show says he’s the only person in the Disney universe to have brought an animated character voiced by him to the stage – a foundation for a career that includes credits in 11 Broadway shows.
After the show ended, the cast and crew took a moment to honor Freeman in the pitch.
“I have to come tonight to recognize this amazing man,” said the show’s director, Casey Nicholaw. “We will really miss you here so much.”
Freeman, 71, replied: “No one wants to see a villain cry.” He added that “nobody does this alone.”
After that, Freeman officially passed his cobra staff – “for power was given to me by Mickey Mouse,” he said – to Dennis Stowe, Jafar’s curator, who will take up the role this week. this.
After a few brief speeches backstage, where most of the cast wore Jafar t-shirts and plenty of hugs, Freeman sat down for an interview leaving the nearby Disney Theatrical office.
Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
You’ve been some version of Jafar for 30 years. How are you thinking about letting go of Jafar – and letting go of a part of yourself for a bit?
After it looked like the show was going to be a hit and Disney wanted a lot of production, it was like this little island of Jafar where I lived alone for a while, it just kept falling apart and falling apart. Honestly, I was happy and thrilled, only to learn that I had reached a certain place, where it became some kind of stereotype that could be copied by others. So that’s great – great to know it’s still happening.
Why leave now?
Actually, when we started the 2020 season – our year actually started in February – I thought that maybe this would be my last year doing it.
And then the pandemic happened, and then nothing. No one knows – will it be two months, six months? So I think I thought, “Well, if they start over, I can’t help but go back and try to pick up the debris” because I’m going to evaporate right in the middle of this pandemic. It would just be too weird. And I don’t want to leave right before the vacation because that means putting the company into rehearsals. And so I think wait until after the first day of the year and February is the end date anyway. It just seemed like the right time.
What do you think you could bring to Jafar on stage that you probably couldn’t voice him in the movie?
When we first started in Seattle [a pilot production of the show in the summer of 2011]just me and one other person in the room connected to the original project, [the composer] Alan Menken. So when we read it for the first time, I got cold water on my face, because I heard new voices playing characters I’d been listening to for years.
With new voices, new ideas gave birth to new ideas, and people were physically different in them as well. So I had to figure out how I would fit in. And I really had to renovate a bit.
How do you think your opinion of Jafar – and “Aladdin” – has evolved over the years?
Until Jafar went, I never thought of him as, honestly, anything but a Disney villain. I never thought he was North African, Middle Eastern, Asian, South Asian. I never thought about any of that. I always thought of him as a villain. The makeup that I put on was never racially condescending. It’s always been the villain’s makeover. It’s related to the arch of the eyebrow, it’s related to mockery.
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Not that no one thought about it. I think people have thought about it, and people have thought about it carefully.
Let’s do a fast paced lap. How often and in what context are you asked to speak with a Jafar accent?
I’m on this platform called Cameo. I get requests pretty much every week.
How much are you charging?
Very low, like $35 – or $50. I thought, you know, if people want to, I’ll give it to them and the volume makes all the difference.
Can you confirm that Jafar is a Slytherin?
Oh, completely. No question.
Five words to describe Jafar?
Unconsistant; malevolence; envy (not to be confused with envy); futile; and self-important.
You must have had a million interactions with kids, Disney fans, “Aladdin” fans. Do you have a favorite?
We walked out the stage door one night in Seattle, I went downstairs and down the alley, a young woman walked behind me and said, “Excuse me? Are you the gentleman who played Jafar tonight? ” I said, yes. And she said, “You sound like the guy in the movies!” And I said, “Thanks a lot. That’s a great compliment.”
What’s next for Jafar? I read maybe something for Cirque du Soleil?
Cirque du Soleil signed something with Jafar. I’m not even sure what it is.
I thought it would be a fresh install. It has something to do with drawing. That’s not Vegas. It will be at an amusement park. I mean, it wouldn’t be me directly. It might even be just a lift from the movie or something.
What’s next for Jonathan?
I am looking at several projects. I want to do a simple play again. Jafar is very greedy. He takes up a lot of time.
I have rediscovered time during a pandemic. And what I discovered about rediscovering time is that it’s great to have it.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/theater/aladdin-broadway-jonathan-freeman-jafar.html Jonathan Freeman, Jafar in ‘Aladdin,’ Hang his cobra employee