This week Playbill catches up with Dennis Stowe, who is currently playing Jafar in the long-running Disney musical Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Stowe has also appeared on Broadway in Annie, Leap of Faith, Shrek the Musical, The Wedding Singer, The Apple Tree, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Wonderful Town, and Man of La Mancha — as well as in the City Center Encores! productions of Cabin in the Sky and Stairway to Paradise. A longtime member of Broadway Inspirational Voices, the actor was seen in Jerry Springer the Opera at Carnegie Hall, while his screen credits include Tales of the City and Across the Universe.
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What is your typical day like now?
I definitely have to start my day with my morning “cup a joe” (or two…or three!) and then a check-in to see what my voice is doing, and then I go from there. My days are mostly making sure that I’m prepared for this eight-show week. The days of just rolling in from the day and doing the show without thinking about it are past. I’m actually enjoying figuring out what I need to do to put myself in a place physically and mentally, so that I can be fully present on stage and enjoy the grind of performing six days a week (twice on Saturdays and Sundays!). I’m back at the gym, back in voice lessons, and I’ve also been really focused on planning and cooking my own meals instead of ordering Seamless every day (boy, that adds up!). Oh, and sleep and water!
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
Well, I play a villain, who is thirsty for power and will do whatever he needs in order to get it, so I’m gonna leave that one there.
But as far as Aladdin is concerned, I think poignancy lays in the fact that after these two years, there is this heightened need for joy and escape, and Aladdin provides just that and more. There is inherent joy that permeates our theatre, and I love that we are able to share that joy in the midst of the uncertainty, so that folks can leave from seeing the show a little bit more joyful than when they came in.
Is there any performance of Aladdin and/or any audience reaction that stands out since the show reopened following the pandemic?
Well, of course, our first performance back from the pandemic was really emotional and cathartic. People were hungry for live entertainment, and they sure weren’t afraid to show their appreciation to be back in a theatre and be on the receiving end of the energy from a live show experience. I do feel like our post-overture applause is consistently louder than it was pre-pandemic.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think it’s possible to recognize and applaud the efforts put forth to make our backstages and on stages more equitable, inclusive, and diverse. But at the same time, there’s still an immense amount of work to be done. Dismantling oppressive systems takes an extreme amount of dedication, self-reflection, and commitment all the time and not just when it’s easy or convenient. We have to keep asking ourselves the hard questions and figure out where we fit in the conversation, because we all fit somewhere. Representation on and off stage allows people to dream bigger about their futures, sends a message that they are seen and heard. And it can be a transformative tool for the heart and mind, among many other amazing things that can move us towards a more peaceful existence.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
Performing is so much a part of who I am, and these past two years forced me to examine who I am without it. A common theme I heard frequently from fellow performers was, “I am not defined by show business or by the show that I’m in or not in” — almost as a bit of a defense mechanism to protect their spirits. What I think I’ve learned is that whether performing and working defines me or not, I know that I am the most happy when I am doing it, and if that means it defines me, it’s actually ok. It actually solidifies that this is what I was put here to do, it makes me work harder to be able to do it, and it makes me appreciate when I get to do it even more than before.
When you look back at your other Broadway performances, is there any one production that stands out as the most memorable?
I oftentimes get asked what my favorite Broadway experience was, and that’s a hard question to answer. They each hold different fond memories. Man of La Mancha holds a special place in my heart and memory because it was my Broadway debut, and I got to work with the likes of the great Brian Stokes Mitchell; late greats Greg Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, and Don Mayo; and now sought-after Broadway choreographers Andy Blankenbuehler and Lorin Latarro, just to name a few.
One of my fondest memories, though, was from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where I was one of the first ensemble replacements. At my put-in rehearsal, the amazing and legendary John Lithgow (who was on vacation during my rehearsal period for the show so I hadn’t met him yet) came through the stage door at the Imperial Theatre and made a bee line for me on stage. He took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “Dennis! Welcome to the show. We are so lucky to have you!”
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
Yes! It should be announced soon, but let’s just say I’m taking a little break from Aladdin.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I recommend Covenant House, which provides shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and other services to homeless and runaway youths. The organization also provides care to homeless youths designed to transition them out of homelessness into independent adulthood — through such services as healthcare, educational support, job readiness and skills training programs, substance abuse treatments and prevention programs, legal services, mental health services, mother/child programs, and transitional living programs.
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