Gareth Jacobs, performer, Disney's Aladdin the Musical
When you want it so much it’s so rewarding when it happens – and it’s so defeating when it doesn’t – but if you will it you can achieve it ...
For most of us, the phrase “living the dream” gets thrown around pretty liberally – but what would you do if your wildest dream actually came true. For Gareth Jacobs, this sentiment became a reality when he moved from standby to star in the Australian production of Disney’s Aladdin – The Musical. Stepping into the iconic role of the genie, Gareth is currently touring the country in a production that has garnered critical acclaim and captured the hearts of many. After falling in love with the theatre from a young age, Gareth has been working tirelessly to make it in the theatre business – and we can safely say that he has well and truly arrived.
Cast your mind back to your first encounter with performance – can you remember what spurred your love of theatre?
My parents are a bit to blame for that! They used to take me to see a lot of musicals and things that came through Melbourne. I remember my first one was The Phantom of the Opera when I was like, nine or ten years old – quite a heavy one for a kid to go and see. As soon as I saw it I was hooked and the love grew from there. It was never going to be a career choice for me – I was looking at becoming a drama teacher instead – then I found a performing arts course out in Ballarat … the rest is history! I fell in love with the spotlight and the accolades.
Did you have any acting role models or influences growing up?
It wasn’t really any particular person that spawned it for me, it was the spectacle of theatre itself and the grandeur of the costumes, the music and everything that’s brought to life on stage. It’s where you can kind of escape reality for a little while. As a kid – and kind of as an adult – you love to escape the real world for an hour or four, and I think that’s the best thing that theatre does for a lot of people. It helps people forget about their day-to-day troubles in life. I think it’s that alternate reality that I like about it – it’s playing pretend, which is something that not a lot of people get to do.
So it’s also a form of escapism for you as a performer?
It definitely is. People don’t realise that as much as the audience is getting that escapism, the actors on stage get it too. We have our normal day-to-day lives that we like to just pretend don’t exist for a few hours with coming to work, and we get paid for it which is nice!
Huge congratulations for scoring the role of the genie in Disney’s Aladdin the Musical! Were you a fan of the Disney animation growing up?
Absolutely. I was at that age (around 10–12) when the movie came out and that was one of the first Disney movies that I really remember. I remember going to see it at the movies and sitting there – the thing for me is that it was slightly different from all of the other movies they’d done previously. The magic of it all is something that stuck in my brain, so when the musical was coming out I really wanted to be a part of it. Seeing how they’ve turned the movie into a musical and seeing the magic that they create on stage is just even more inspiring and more unbelievable to me. Every night there are things that still surprise me – it’s such a magical show and I’m so excited to be a part of it, so thankful and blessed.
Following on from reconstructing the story for stage, if you’re someone who is only really familiar with the Disney animation, what can you expect from the show?
There are quite a lot of similarities to the film – they’ve kept it quite true in that regard. If you are vaguely familiar with the story of Aladdin, it’s kind of that but bumped up and made more exciting by massive dance numbers and costumes. If you’re a fan of sparkle and glitter, you’ll see rhinestones when you come and see – some costumes have more than 500 Swarovski crystals on them. You sit there and watch it and you can’t believe it’s all just happening right in front of your eyes. It’s pure spectacle!
Most people would be familiar with Robin Williams’ iconic version of the genie – when it was your turn to step into the role, what was your approach to making it your own?
The role of the genie is definitely one of those ones that an actor always dreams of playing because it’s something that you can bring so much of your own personality to. Robin Williams brought such an iconic and massive personality to that role – taking some of the things that he brought to the character and being able to elaborate on it is really great. Going out there some nights it’s like I have a split personality happening – I’m really thankful that I get to throw as much of me into the role as I possibly can. There’s a vague blueprint of what the character needs to be but as far as that they give me as much free reign as I like. A lot of people who have come to see the show who know me personally have said that the role was made for me with my personality. The vibrancy that I bring to everyday life is something that I can bring to this character, which is so exciting. Bringing joy to people makes it so valuable and so worth it.
So it’s about being inspired but bringing your own magic to it?
Exactly – you know how they say imitation is the highest compliment? I’ve run a little bit with that but then thrown my own twists in, like a bit of Aussie humour. It’s cool that I can break that fourth wall and interact more with the audience, where in other musicals the characters might not get that opportunity. There is a lot of me in the character!
Being a standby and understudy is a crucial and underappreciated role – what’s the most challenging and rewarding aspect of being in your position?
Starting off as a standby was a great way to enter into the role. Michael James Scott is such an amazing person and while he was here I got to really watch him – it was watching a master at work. He’s got so many Broadway credits behind him and he’s such a seasoned professional. Getting to know how someone does the show and how they make it, it was invaluable to get to do that. It was amazing to see the fitness and stamina that you need to carry this role – until you see the show it’s hard to realise! It was really good to be able to get myself out there and see how much I could push it and know where my limits are. It was good to know I was capable of jumping in there at a moment’s notice – it keeps everything so fresh. I’m just so happy and grateful that I got to step into the actual role and do it full time, applying the things that I’ve learned sitting and watching into practice.
For a time you were a vocalist for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. Do you have any tales about your time at sea?
That time of my life was so exciting. I got paid to travel the world and sing and dance which was so amazing for a kid stepping straight out of university. There was nothing really juicy – it was a job, so you kind of stay away from all that stuff. As far as things that happened, working at sea with the waves and the weather is so unpredictable. There was always something new to have to contend with when you’re on stage – standing still was definitely the hardest thing! All of a sudden a wave would come and you’d stumble and have to keep yourself balanced. It helped me grow as a performer and as an individual – being away from home and having to look after myself without the support network that I had back home was the biggest thing that I had to contend with.
If you came across a magic lamp and got three of your own wishes, what would you wish for?
This question always stumps me! I think having the never-ending pack of Tim Tams like in that ad from the 90s wouldn’t be too bad. At the moment I’m living my wishes. Being part of such an amazing show and getting to do what I do would be wishes one and two at the moment. It’s one of those things that the wish has actually come into fruition.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Never give up on your dreams. It’s taken me quite a while to get to this point in life and there were times that I struggled with keeping my focus of getting into the industry and giving it a really hard crack. I remember one of my teachers and people in the industry telling me that it’s not an easy road, there are definitely a lot of bumps along the way and a lot of stop signs. But if you can continue that drive and that force and the love that you have for it, it’s going to help you get to where you need to be. If this is something that you really want to do and want to be a part of, don’t give up on it. It’s so rewarding when it happens, and it’s so defeating when it doesn’t, but if you will it you can achieve it. Not giving up your dreams is something that I’m going to pass on and pay forward to others.