Up until June 2014, James Monroe Iglehart asserts that nobody knew how to pronounce his last name. Then, when he won a Tony Award for his wildly entertaining star turn as the Genie in Disney's Broadway production of Aladdin, people finally figured it out.

What Iglehart didn't expect, though, was that the honor would prompt him to look back on his life and reflect on precisely how he got to be standing on the big stage at both the New Amsterdam Theatre and Radio City Music Hall, where he accepted his Tony (and his name was pronounced correctly). Iglehart's life discoveries have taken shape in a new cabaret show, How the Heck Did I Get Here?, premiering at 54 Below on May 4 and 18.

Iglehart spoke with TheaterMania about why being Genie is cooler than being a rapper, how he learned to freestyle, and where his pal Tony lives in his home.

James Monroe Iglehart brings his new cabaret show, How the Heck Did I Get Here? to 54 Below on May 4 and 18.
James Monroe Iglehart brings his new cabaret show, How the Heck Did I Get Here?, to 54 Below on May 4 and 18.
(© David Gordon)

Tell me about your show.
It's all about how amazing I truly am. It really goes into the amazingness that encompasses me. Nah, I'm just kidding. [laughs] The show is called How the Heck Did I Get Here? The truth of the matter is, after I won the Tony, I went, "Holy crap, what happened?" So my wife and I sat back and laughed and began to go through all the bullet points from when I was a kid to today. [The show features] songs from my life that meant a lot to me, so I can look back and say thanks to this wonderful Broadway community for not just allowing me to be a part of it, but allowing me to thrive.

So, how did you get here?
A lot of wishing, a lot of prayer, a lot of hard work, and a lot of really cool friends who were nice enough to put me in places. One of the cool guys [who's] with me is my musical director, Bill Sherman. Bill and I met through the group Freestyle Love Supreme. If you don't know Freestyle Love Supreme, it's all the guys in that amazing, crazy, not-hit-of-a-show called Hamilton. Those dudes. I'm in a group with those guys. Bill said, "I'm doing something for Sesame Street. Why don't you do this song called 'Silent E' on The Electric Company?" Things like that, friends who open doors for you that you don't see coming. You stick with those people 'cause they got your back and you've got theirs.

You freestyle during the show. When did you develop those skills?
[There] was a time in my life when I didn't want to sing anymore, because that was not cool. I wanted to be a rapper. I knew I was going to be a rapper when I grew up. That didn't happen, but the skill set stayed.

James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
(© Cylla von Tiedemann)

The Genie seems like a better idea than being a rapper.
Yes. I will say that. My rap career probably would have lasted two seconds, and the Genie is going to last a little bit longer.

Has your life changed majorly since winning the Tony?
The only thing that has really changed, to be perfectly honest, is that people can pronounce my last name. From 2002-2014, everybody called me "Inglehart," "Igglehart," every other thing. After the Tony Awards, people seem to say Iglehart ["EYE-gul-hart"] correctly. And if that's the only thing to happen from that, then I'm pretty happy.

Where do you keep your statue?
The wonderful award sits on my mantel above my television, so just in case I get depressed when I'm not looking at professional wrestling, I can look up and go, "Oh right, it's a Tony. Life's not that bad."

What's the best part about doing Aladdin night after night?
Watching people get excited. I love the Disney fans. They're my favorite people, because I am one too. I love when folks come to the show [who] didn't think they were going to like it. I'm the first one [onstage], and I can see the look on their faces. They have the look like, "Ugh, it's a Disney show, the kids are here." And when I get them laughing, the real belly laugh, I know I've got them, and it feels great.

James Monroe Iglehart with his pal Tony at the 2014 Tony Awards.
James Monroe Iglehart with his pal Tony at the 2014 Tony Awards.
(© David Gordon)

Watch James Monroe Iglehart freestyle in a preview of his 54 Below concert below: