James Monroe Iglehart at Feinstein’s/54 Below
How the Heck Did I Get Here? James Monroe Iglehart, Derrick Baskin
By: Iris Wiener
Not surprising that James Monroe Iglehart’s show at 54 Below has some punch and flair, he won a Tony award in 2015 for his show-stopping performance of “A Friend Like Me” in Aladdin‘s. What might be surprising is the number of layers beneath his comical veneer. Feinstein’s/54 Below audiences lucky enough to experience his solo cabaret show, “How the Heck Did I Get Here?,” saw firsthand that this Genie holds more magic within his big heart than he’s ever displayed in Broadway’s Aladdin.
Through recounting his growth as both a performer and a young adult, Iglehart took audiences along for a ride through his childhood passion for gospel to the tunes that he would use to win over the ladies. All aspects of his fun-loving yet grounded character were on display with his meaningful song choices and heartfelt stories. He sweetly recalled his mother’s influence as a gospel singer with “Long As I Got King Jesus,” and his father’s infusion of passion for theater when he was taken to see The Wiz. In fact, Iglehart memorably played the role of the lion in his school musical at the age of 11, a part that he lovingly paid homage to with an energetic rendition of “Mean Ole Lion.” No genre was off limits at this delightfully refreshing production, and every number was overflowing with soul and passion. Iglehart treated his audience to Lionel Richie’s “Hello” with as much sincerity as his performance of “Silent E” from The Electric Company (with the creative genius who wrote the adorable song, Bill Sherman, on piano). Other landmark moments culled from his life and career included a demonstration of his freestyling skills, which were accompanied by sound mastermind Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan, a fellow member of the hit group Freestyle Love Supreme. The show wouldn’t have been complete if Iglehart hadn’t revered Memphis with his breakout number “Big Daddy,” and of course “A Friend Like Me.” However, it was the sincere ballads that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house…including those of the star on stage. When he belted “My Love is Anchored in the Lord,” every angel in the metro area got its wings; his enormous emotion and belief in the power of the lyrics proved why his soulful performances are essential experiences for everyone.
Iglehart’s ruminations about his life and career were similarly impactful, whether humorous or touching. From meeting his wife in high school to his five minute journey as a music theory major (at which time he discovered that he could not read music), and his eventual rolls in Ain’t Misbehavin’ (one that showed him he could sing professionally) and Showboat, Iglehart wore his heart on his sleeve. Kathryn Allison (a fellow performer in Aladdin) was a star in her own right as she joined him for the galvanizing “Honeysuckle Rose.” Just try to hear Barry White the same way again after witnessing Iglehart’s hilarious, yet sexy duet on “Never Gonna GiveYou Up” with fellow Aladdin performer Trent Saunders.
The finale didn’t disappoint, as Iglehart did the nearly impossible, making Elvis Presley sexier and more soulful than the artist himself. His rendition of “Good Luck Charm” slid through the room sensually, sending toes curling andn spines tingling. Calling this a feel-good concert doesn’t do it justice, as it made the entire audience feel joyous and hopeful at every note.No need to wish upon a star, Mr. Iglehart (alas, another ballad only made more beautiful when given this artist’s tender spin); when the stars hear your voice, they’ll fall from the sky for you.
Courtney Reed, James Monroe Inglehart
James Monroe Inglehart and his band
James Monroe Inglehart
James Monroe Inglehart
Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart
Trent Saunders, James Monroe Iglehart
IrisWiener is an entertainment journalist. Her work appears on Playbill.com and in TheaterMania, Long Island Woman and Long Island Herald, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Iris_Wiener [https://twitter.com/Iris_Wiener] or
visit her at IrisWiener.com.