Those who’ve taken an acting class at Loyola in recent years may find a familiar face gracing one of Chicago’s biggest stages.
Jonathan Weir, an adjunct theater professor in the Department of Fine and Performing of Arts who has taught on and off for 15 years, is playing Jafar in the first national tour of “Aladdin.” The show officially opened at the Cadillac Palace Theatre April 19, where it will continue to play until Sept. 10.
Weir, who’s been a Chicago-based actor for the past 30 years, has performed in shows at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Lyric Opera Chicago, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and on the national tours for “Jersey Boys,” “The Lion King” and “Scrooge the Musical.”
Weir said he first went in for “Aladdin” in the fall of 2015 when the casting director was holding preliminary auditions. At that point, the national tour for hadn’t even been announced. It wasn’t until a year later that a true audition for the first national tour occurred. Weir flew to New York City on a Wednesday, was asked to stay for a callback happening the following Monday and then received an offer for his role after flying home just a few days later.
Prior to starting rehearsals for “Aladdin,” Weir was in New York City working on the hit Disney Broadway musical, “The Lion King.” The actor portrayed Scar, the show’s villain, on and off over the past 13 years while still teaching at Loyola.
Before opening in Chicago, the first national tour cast had to rehearse in the city. After wrapping up his time with “The Lion King,” Weir flew home on a Sunday in February, only to begin rehearsals for “Aladdin” the next day.
For six weeks, the cast rehearsed with Scott Taylor, the show’s associate director, at the Germania Club — a building in the Gold Coast neighborhood where other Disney national tours like “Mary Poppins” prepped before hitting the road. Following their rehearsals, a week was spent with Casey Nicholaw, the director and choreographer of “Aladdin,” before moving into the Cadillac Palace Theatre for tech rehearsals.
During tech rehearsals, the many moving parts involved in this production were introduced, including costumes, lights, sound and pyrotechnics. For a show packed with as many intricacies and tricks as this one, Weir said long rehearsal days were required. In the musical number “Friend Like Me,” for ex- ample, about 100 costume changes take place in under one minute. For Weir, navigating the many elaborate costumes is just one of the challenges that comes with playing Jafar.
“The hardest part is the final scene where I come in and transform from Jafar to Sultan to Genie. I’m wearing about 25 pounds of fabric. I can’t tell you how [the costume changes] are done, but I have all of it on for quite awhile,” Weir said. “Other than that, the hardest thing is being mean to my cohort, Reggie De Leon, who plays Iago, because he’s the sweetest man in the world and I have to be abusive to him.”
Fans of the animated film will quickly notice that Jafar’s wise-cracking sidekick Iago is personified on the stage as a man rather than a bird. For Weir, the connection between him and De Leon came quickly and naturally.
“I’m a big believer that what makes things funny is truthfulness,” Weir said. “We both sort of operate from the same spot. We both have great respect and admiration for each other, so it’s great fun to be out there every night with him.”
For the actor, developing his character went beyond perfecting the voice.
“I thought, here’s this guy that’s a sociopath, megalomaniac in search of ultimate power. What does he want and why does he want that ultimate power?” Weir said. “Part of my take was, I didn’t want to just be mean-spirited. There’s got to be some sort of enjoyment Jafar gets out of being with Iago. What is it that Iago gives him or fulfills for Jafar? So we looked at that and explored that relationship.”
The praiseworthy dynamic between the two has garnered positive reviews from both theatre critics and audiences.
“Aladdin” will continue its run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Sept. 10 before traveling to Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, at which point Weir’s one-year contract with the show will end.
Weir, who has been at Loyola for nearly two decades, plays the role of Jafar.
“We’ll see what happens after that. The option to renew is always an op- tion, the option to leave is always an option,” Weir said. “I take it contract for contract, but I’m having a really great time.”
“Aladdin” is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph Street) through Sept. 10. Tickets cost $44-$153 and can be purchased at Broadway in Chicago box offices, at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000.