By Bonnie DeShong
A few weeks ago I saw a performance of the national tour of Aladdin here in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. I was so impressed and had so much fun I left the theater singing at least three songs from the production. When I received a call asking if I would like to have a conversation with Anthony Murphy, who plays the Genie, I jumped at the chance.
Anthony, I want my readers to get to know who the man behind the Genie is. Where are you from?
Anthony: (Laughs). I am from St. Petersburg, Florida. My people, my mom Tia, is a singer. I grew up listening to her sing and my dad was a music engineer so music has kind of always been in my life and in my family. Yeah, that’s where I’m from. I started off going to a performing arts elementary school in the second grade. In the first grade my teachers actually wanted to medicate me. They said ‘oh he has attention deficit, this and that and my parents said no, he just needs a good outlet.’ So they transferred me to the Performing Arts elementary school in the second grade. Found out, no, ‘he’s actually amazing, really talented. We actually want to put him in the gifted program because we think he’s so smart and da da da.’ So that’s how I started in the arts and then I’ve just been in love with it ever since.
BD: So the good thing about it is your parents were supportive
Anthony: I told my parents in the eighth grade that I wanted to be a Broadway actor and I wanted to do musical theater for the rest of my life, and they said all right, you want to do it, we’re gonna do it but you’re gonna do it 100%. So they went and did all this research on what it takes and sent me to all these summer programs around the country, but they made sure I worked hard. They’re like ‘if you want to do this, you’re gonna commit your life to it and you’re gonna commit to it and do it hard and 100%.’ So that’s what we did and now I’m here living my dream, so it’s amazing. I’m just so happy.
BD: Okay. So did you move to New York?
Anthony: I did, after a while actually. After high school I went to Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Why Ohio? I just, I wanted the opposite of Florida, (laughs) so I went there and left there after my junior year and moved back to Florida for a little while, working in clubs as a singer and stuff like that. Then I moved to New York a little, almost two years ago now, so I’d been in New York for a little under a year before I got this job.
BD: That’s amazing.
Anthony: It is quite amazing. I was very fortunate. A dear friend of mine, Ariel Jacobs, her brother is Adam Jacobs, who is our Aladdin, she was playing Jasmine in Australia and I was talking to her and she was like ‘why aren’t you playing the Genie? You’d be amazing for it.’ And at the time I was working a full 40 hour a week job, just trying to pay bills in New York City, because it’s hard, and I said ‘I can’t get to an audition. They are at times when I’m at work and stuff like that.’ And she said ‘send me your resume and a video of you doing something fierce and I’ll send it off to the team and maybe they can get you an appointment.’ I did. Two weeks later I had an appointment. A month later, here we are.
BD: And the reason why I’m asking you all this background is because we see you on stage and you are fierce. I want people to know you, the person before you put on the makeup and the costume and go on stage.
Anthony: That’s like, the really cool thing about Genie, you’re seeing a large part of me, ya know? When I first had my initial audition, before I did anything, he told me, the associate director who was there at the first audition, he told me two things. He said ‘have fun and be yourself. I don’t want you to be James Monroe Iglehart who won the Tony for it. I don’t want you to be Robin Williams. I want you to be Anthony Murphy as the Genie’ and that was a blessing and so awesome that I didn’t have any of that pressure. I just got to go out there and have fun and be myself and do what I love to do and since then it’s been the same thing. They’ve always said the entire time, “be yourself, be yourself and have fun.”
BD: Well you made me tired. From the time I sat in my seat to the curtain call I was exhausted.
Anthony: It is a very exhausting show. It’s very strenuous. I think A Friend Like Me, with the scene beforehand that leads into it, and the one that goes right after it, I’m on stage for like 15-20 minutes straight, just nonstop energy. It’s a lot but it’s so much fun and the audience really feeds on that energy. They give it to me. I mean from the top of the show when that down beat of the orchestra hits and the audience applauds, I feed off of that energy and that really pushes me through, all the way through that long number and into the end of the show, so I thank the audience for their energy because they really help me give it back to them.
BBD: Now let’s talk about the little Anthonys and Anthonias that are out there who may have the talent but don’t have a way to go to a performance arts school or whatever. What can we tell them?
Anthony: Tell them to keep working, keep listening. Keep going and keep seeing art. We have busses of schools that come to see the show. We had two busses of schools last night that came and saw the show and it literally makes my heart so full of joy every time I see those kids in the audience. We have had kids come to the stage door after the show and they tell us their high school is doing Aladdin Jr. this year or they’re doing this musical, and I just tell them to keep working, keep listening to art. There is so much out there. There are so many places to go, especially in Chicago. I mean this is a beautiful city for theater. There’s so much amazing theater and so many places to go, so just go out there and listen to all the cast albums you can and watch.
I mean, I used to sit on my computer for hours watching YouTube videos of Broadway performers and Tony Award performances and all this stuff like that to develop my craft and to see what it’s about, ya know? And really immerse myself in it. It’s kind of what you have to do if you want to do this for a living. You have to immerse yourself in it completely.
BD: Thank you Anthony, for taking the time to sit and talk with me for a while.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!