James Monroe Iglehart Shares His New Cabaret Show Ahead of a Performance at NJPAC
By: Iris Wiener
April 21,2022: Due to his remarkable, distinct talent, James Monroe Iglehart steals every show in which he is cast. His head-turning, Tony Award winning performance in Aladdin and his breakout spot in Memphis were only the beginning of an illustrious career which now spans stage and screen. Not many entertainers can boast performing in two Broadway shows running simultaneously (see last year’s Freestyle Love Supreme and Hamilton), nor can they say they worked on Disney movies and guest roles throughout the pandemic (see Disenchanted and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, respectively). However, despite a laundry list of credits that demonstrate his versatility, what truly sets Iglehart apart from the rest is his enormous heart. He takes center stage in his new concert, The JMI Show, premiering at the NJPAC on April 22nd as part of the American Songbook series. He spoke with Theaterlife about returning to cabaret, sharing a bill with Jim Dale, and his latest guest-star turn with the ladies of Girls5Eva.
Theaterlife: How does The JMI Show compare to your first cabaret show, How the Heck Did I Get Here?
James Monroe Iglehart: I am calling it The JMI Show because it’s just me enjoying some of the songs I grew up listening to with some stories about how those songs came into my life. I’m a big dreamer, so this show is for the dreamers who dreamed of doing something different from everybody else. I dreamed about being a performer. These songs are a part of my career, but they also weave in and out of my life. It’s basically the story of a crazy young dreamer who thought about being a pop star, wanted to be famous, and then realized it’s just about being the best person you can be while working hard for your dreams, and also realizing that those dreams don’t define who you are. If you define who you are then you define those dreams. I put a bunch of new and different stories in The JMI Show to give it a little more flavor than How the Heck Did I Get Here?
TL: What are the challenges in deciding which stories to share?
JMI: The songs help me define what I am going to do. Once I start getting the songs I want to do in my head, the stories come easy and can’t help themselves. I try to be open, but I don’t want to give too much away. When you’re a performer, you have to give a little bit so the audience knows that they are seeing a real person. Also, some of the things that I share are experiences that I know everybody goes through. When you do that it lets people know that we are all human and we all go through crazy stuff. I love that. We’re all people and we all have the human experience. That’s the kind of theater and concerts that I love to do. When people come and see it they don’t feel like they’re different. We all have crazy parents, we all have crazy experiences, we all have dreams, we were all teenagers, we all had pimples… We all wanted to be cool and then realized we weren’t, and then we all of a sudden became cool and then had impostor syndrome and wondered if we were really cool (laughs). We all had that! I really want my shows to have that kind of feel.
TL: The JMI Show is a part of the American Songbook series at NJPAC. What are the first songs that come to mind when you think of the American Songbook?
JMI: It’s different for everyone. For me, what comes to mind are certain gospel or pop songs that I heard when I was a kid. They made me happy. My American Songbook is not Woody Guthrie or Sondheim. For me it’s The Wiz, or Morris Day and the Time, Barry White and Lionel Richie. My American Songbook is the musicals that I have performed in.
TL: In the past few years you worked on three Broadway shows [Hamilton, Freestyle Love Supreme and Chicago] and a number of film and television projects. What have you learned about yourself through this work in such a precarious time?
JMI: I have learned that it’s just okay to relax and enjoy the process of building something. You don’t have to get all trippy and crazy and flip out, that it’s going to be okay. What you’re going through is simply going to be okay. I’m a person who wants to get to the finished product, but sometimes the fun is building the product that you’re making.
TL: How has that lesson lent itself to your show at the NJPAC on April 22nd?
JMI: It has been about five years since I did a solo show. I had to think: How do I do this again? How do I just rely on myself? You realize it’s not just me doing the show. It’s me and my band, as well as another singer who sings with me, the light person, etc. I realized that it’s still a collaborative process. I learned that I really enjoy just putting it all together.
TL: Give us the scoop on your next screen performances. We love catching you pop-up in our favorite shows and films.
JMI: I did the voice of Oscar the Onion in Alice’s Wonderland Bakery. I haven’t seen it yet! Oscar’s scenes should be in it soon. I had a ball, it was really fun. [Hamilton co-star] Mandy Gonzalez plays the rose opposite me. We were laughing about it. I worked on Girls5eva and had a great time with those ladies [Sara Bareilles, Busy Philips, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell]. They are freakin’ insane, some of the most talented ladies I have ever met in my entire life. The scene we do is an interview scene. We had a premise and then would just run with it. I was not expecting to cry laughing the entire day that I was there and that’s what ended up happening.
TL: Is more stage or screen in the near future?
JMI: I can’t say when or where, but you may see me with Freestyle Love Supreme while they are on tour right now. Otherwise, I have nothing right now, which is the fun part. I am enjoying it!
TL: How would you like to see yourself return to musicals or plays?
JMI: I don’t really have a preference for how I do anything right now. The one thing on my mind is directing. I have some feelers out to be behind the desk and be on the other side of the stage instead of just being on it. However, I’m still a performer and I will never stop being a performer, because that’s what I love to do.
TL: When you perform at the NJPAC you will be sharing the bill with Jim Dale. How does that have special significance for you?
JMI: I’m a huge fan of Jim Dale. Jim is the professor from Pete’s Dragon!He also did this really rare film for Disney called Hot Lead and Cold Feet, which was one of my favorite films as a kid. He starred in it with Don Knotts. My brother and I used to watch it religiously on VHS. To be on the same bill with him is a dream come true. When they asked me to be a part of the American Songbook series, they told me Jim was part of it and I said, “I want to do it whatever night Jim is doing it.”
TL: When you were in Chicago you began “Words from the Bowtie,” a TikTok series of jocular, yet poignant words of wisdom while donning Billy Flynn’s debonair necktie. What would be your “Words from the Bow Tie” as pertaining to The JMI Show?
JMI: “Need a laugh? Need a pick-me-up? Just need a good night of entertainment? April 22nd, 2022 at the NJPAC, American Songbook. Words from the Bow Tie.”
I love entertaining, singing and performing. That’s what fans will get that night. I’m just going to be on stage being me and having a good time with the audience. I hope they have a good time with me.
To purchase tickets or for more information about James Monroe Iglehart’s performance at NJPAC, visit njpac.org.
Photos of James Monroe Iglehart Courtesy of NJPAC